NEW DELHI: The US did not break international law when its Navy ship carried out a freedom of navigation operation in the Indian exclusive economic zone last week, but it did show “disrespect” which must be addressed diplomatically, senior Congress leader and former UN undersecretary general Shashi Tharoor said on Wednesday.
India on Friday had conveyed concerns to the United States over its Navy ship carrying out a freedom of navigation operation in the Indian exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
India’s reaction came after the US Navy, in an unusual move, announced that one of its ships conducted patrols in the Indian EEZ on April 7, without seeking consent from India.
Responding to the episode, Tharoor put out a series of tweets in which he argued that the best way forward was for India to extract an explicit undertaking from the US to inform it in advance as a courtesy before undertaking such operations and not to publicise the “fact that they have thumbed their noses at us”.
“There’s understandable anger in India over the US Seventh Fleet sailing near Lakshadweep in waters that are part of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ). However, there is nothing in UNCLOS (the Law of the Sea) that supports India’s stand on freedom of navigation through the EEZ,” he said.
The Americans are essentially doing near Lakshadweep exactly what they are insisting on doing in and through the South China Sea under the same Freedom of Navigation principle (FoNoPs), Tharoor said.
The US can be accused of not respecting our sensibilities but not of breaking international law, the former Union minister said.
“Some ask why the US has done to India what it hasn’t done to Canada/UK/Australia etc. by exercising FoNoPs through their EEZs. Since those are treaty allies, they have consultation agreements already in place with the US. India (is) not, & is unlikely to ever be, an ally,” he argued.
“So the best we can hope for is an explicit undertaking to (1) inform India in advance as a courtesy and (2) not to publicise the fact that they have thumbed their noses at us. Our diplomacy should have negotiated this; nothing better would have been possible,” Tharoor said.
The US hasn’t signed UNCLOS, but since FoNoPs is not in UNCLOS, the legal position is irrelevant, the Lok Sabha MP from Thiruvananthapuram said.
“We need a pragmatic political approach rather than outrage about a legal breach that hasn’t occurred. There has been discourtesy & disrespect, which must be addressed diplomatically,” Tharoor asserted.
The US Navy, in a statement, had announced last week that it asserted navigational rights and freedoms inside India’s EEZ without seeking the country’s prior consent.
“This freedom of navigation operation upheld the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognised in international law by challenging India’s excessive maritime claims,” the US 7th fleet said in a statement.
In a statement, the Ministry of External Affairs had said, “The USS John Paul Jones was continuously monitored transiting from the Persian Gulf towards the Malacca Straits. We have conveyed our concerns regarding this passage through our EEZ to the government of the USA through diplomatic channels.”
It had also said India’s stated position has been that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea does not authorise other countries to carry out military exercises or manoeuvres in an EEZ and on the continental shelf without the consent of the coastal nation.