Presence of Putin, Blinken at virtual meet chaired by Indian Prime Minister indicates New Delhi’s international clout as does the adoption of the Presidential Statement on maritime security, after two failed previous attempts at discussing the issue. China showed its displeasure by sending a relatively junior official to attend the session.
India scored a major diplomatic victory by steering the United Nations Security Council to accept the primacy of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) despite resistance from China, which has laid claims to vast tracts of South China Sea and East China Sea.
India holds the presidency of the UNSC in August and this was the first ever session of the UN’s apex body chaired by an Indian Prime Minister. Narendra Modi chaired the debate on “Enhancing Maritime Security: A Case for International Cooperation” through a video conference.
Though the Presidential Statement was adopted unanimously as per convention, the debate on the subject of maritime security was marked by heated exchanges between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Chinese representative.
Under UNCLOS, large parts of China’s claim lines fall in international waters and some parts come within the jurisdiction of its maritime neighbours such as Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam.
The statement underlines the importance of enhancing international and regional cooperation on maritime safety and security and welcomes mutual legal assistance and other forms of law enforcement cooperation against organised crime at sea. It focuses on capacity building, sharing of best practices and information between nations and stresses to promote safe and secure shipping and on ensuring freedom of navigation in accordance with international laws.
“Oceans are our shared heritage. They are also the lifeline of international trade. Above all, they are key to our planet's future. However, today, this common maritime heritage of ours faces various types of threats. Maritime routes are being misused for piracy and terrorism,” Prime Minister Modi said.
This is the first time that the 'legislative framework' for UNCLOS has been recognised and accepted in the context of maritime security. Earlier, it was acknowledged in the context of piracy in Libya and Somalia but not in the context of maritime security.
"The Security Council notes with concern the ongoing threats to maritime safety and security posed by piracy, armed robbery at sea, terrorists' travel and use of the sea to conduct crimes and acts against shipping, offshore installations, critical infrastructure, and other maritime interests," the UNSC President's statement read.
"The Security Council notes the deplorable loss of life and adverse impact on international trade, energy security and the global economy resulting from such activities and, in this regard, emphasizes the importance of safeguarding the legitimate uses of the oceans and the lives of people at sea, as well as the livelihoods and security of coastal communities," the statement added.
There were other reasons for India and Modi to feel pleased at the outcome. In a sign that the world is increasingly recognising India’s growing importance on the world stage and in a nod to Modi’s raised international profile, the meeting was marked by high-level attendees.
These included Russian President Vladimir Putin – the first such appearance by a Russian President in 16 years – and Blinken. Besides Modi and Putin, also present at the meeting were two other heads of state or government and 10 ministers, including seven foreign ministers. Incidentally, Blinken’s attendance, despite the US Ambassador to the UN holding a Cabinet rank in the US government, was an indicator of the importance the US attaches to its relations with India.
China, however, showed its displeasure by sending its Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Dai Bing. Officially, Beijing maintained that Zhang Jun, its Permanent Representative had returned to China for consultations on the United National General Assembly (UNGA) next month.
China, however, showed its displeasure by sending its Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Dai Bing. Officially, Beijing maintained that Zhang Jun, its Permanent Representative had returned to China for consultations on the United National General Assembly (UNGA) next month. Given the onerous quarantine protocols in place, it wasn’t possible for Zhang to be present, it said.
Despite China’s show of diplomatic petulance, media reports said no previous presidential event at the UNSC had ever seen such a high profile and distinguished list of participants.
India can also take satisfaction from the fact that this was the first-ever standalone discussion on 'Maritime Security' in the UNSC. Previous discussions have focused on sub-sets of maritime security such as crime and piracy. Past attempts at discussing the issue in a comprehensive manner – by Vietnam and Equatorial Guinea in April this year and in February 2019, respectively, had not been successful.
But Indian diplomats worked overtime to build a consensus among all nations by preparing a concept note that incorporated ideas from all participating nations.
Modi also stayed true to his outreach to Africa by ensuring that the interests that continent, with which India as wide ranging historical, commercial, strategic and diplomatic ties, were safeguarded. India invited the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who represented the President of his country, in his capacity as Chair of the African Union, to brief the Council.
"This helped us develop synergies with African Union on the issue of Maritime Security. PM Modi had sent out a personally signed invite to the AU Chair inviting him to brief the UNSC," a source said.