In China's shadow, ASEAN leaders look to India for maritime security
By Ross Colvin
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Southeast Asian nations and India vowed on Thursday to step up cooperation on maritime security, a move that comes amid tension with China in the potentially oil- and gas-rich South China Sea.
In a vision statement agreed at a summit in New Delhi, India and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) set their sights on a new "strategic partnership" that would bring closer political, security and economic cooperation.
Significantly, they underlined the need for freedom of navigation, a contentious issue because of competing claims with Beijing over parts of the South China Sea, though there was no mention of China in their statement.
In speeches, the Philippines and Vietnam referred to tensions in their region, but India's foreign minister sought to distance New Delhi from the wrangling over the South China Sea.
"There are fundamental issues there that do not require India's intervention," External Affairs Minister Salman Kurshid told a news conference, adding that issues of sovereignty "need to be resolved between the countries concerned".
An ASEAN summit ended in acrimony last month over China's assertiveness in the South China Sea, with its leaders failing to agree on a concluding joint statement.
The South China Sea has become Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint as Beijing's sovereignty claim over a huge, looping area has set it against Vietnam and the Philippines as the three countries race to tap possibly huge oil reserves. Malaysia and Brunei, also members of ASEAN, as well as Taiwan also claim parts of the sea.
Other members of ASEAN include Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia and Laos. Continued...