NEW DELHI, June 2 (IANS): India Saturday called for freedom of navigation though the South China Sea where Beijing has territorial disputes with other countries.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony made the demand at the 11th Asia security meet organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore.
He said as countries seek to bolster their capabilities to respond to perceived challenges in the maritime domain, there was also a need to avoid conflicts and build consensus.
Referring to disputes in the South China Sea, where China is locked in territorial disputes with other countries, Antony said India welcomed the efforts of the parties concerned in engaging in discussions.
"New Delhi has also welcomed the recently agreed guidelines on the implementation of the 2002 Declaration of the conduct of parties between China and the Asean. We hope the issues will be resolved through dialogue and negotiations," he said.
India's entry into Vietnam's oil exploration business in South China Sea was seen adversely by China, which objected to Indian warships entering the waters.
Outlining India's security concerns, Antony said it was intimately tied to the security and prosperity of the extended Indian Ocean Region, which also includes the Asia Pacific region.
He said contentious issues relating to maritime domain should be resolved through dialogue, consensus building and within the framework of accepted principles of international law.
Urging the international community to be sensitive to the problems of smaller nations, he said the spirit of cooperation shown in anti-piracy measures can be extended to "de-conflict contentious maritime issues".
"Unlike in the previous centuries, maritime freedom cannot be the exclusive prerogative of a few. Large parts of the common seas cannot be declared exclusive to any one country or group.
"We must find the balance between the rights of nations and the freedoms of the world community in the maritime domain.
"Like individual freedoms, the fullness of maritime freedoms can be realised only when all states, big and small, are willing to abide by universally agreed laws and principles," he added.
Antony said maritime security issues have become a strategic priority for India, given its geographical location, extensive maritime interests, dependence on the seas for trade and the evolving asymmetric threats in the form of maritime terrorism, piracy and drug trafficking.
India will make its contribution for the evolution of an open, transparent and inclusive maritime security architecture that would ensure the protection and preservation of maritime freedom, he added.
On piracy, Antony said: "A permanent solution to the threat of piracy will require sustained and concerted efforts by the international community, at sea and on land."