Updated: April 11, 2021 7:42:38 am
THE US Navy’s controversial public statement on its freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone echoes its previous statements as per a new Standard Operating Procedure beginning November 2020 – with one telling change.
The US Navy’s Seventh Fleet issued statements after nine Freedom of Navigation operations in which it challenged “excessive maritime claims” made by allies and adversaries alike — Russia, Japan, China, Vietnam, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Maldives and India.
That this includes Quad partners Japan and India shows that the statements are “country-neutral,” officials said.
However, what is significant is that the issue of “not requesting prior consent or permission” figured only in statements with respect to China (South China Sea) on December 22, and India, Maldives and Sri Lanka in April.
Bad optics given Quad spotlight
The US Navy’s new SOP has created concern in India especially given the Quad grouping. Delhi’s view is that underlining “without India’s consent,” is counter-productive and “bad optics.” More so, since this language has been used with China, not Japan. And US has not picked on Canada or Australia so far.
Incidentally, that phrase is missing in other FONOP statements and this is what has caused several red faces in New Delhi.
Now both sides are trying to dial down the rhetoric. On Saturday, a US embassy spokesperson in New Delhi, when contacted, told The Indian Express: “Earlier this week, the USS John Paul Jones, part of the Seventh fleet conducted a routine Freedom of Navigation operation in the Indian Ocean. This operation demonstrates longstanding U.S. support for international law and freedom of the seas worldwide. We value our partnership with India on a wide range of issues, including regional security across the Indo-Pacific.”
Under the new SOP, records show, US Navy statements asserting its rights and challenging excessive claims were made:
n November 24, 2020: USS John S McCain against Russia’s claims in the Sea of Japan
n December 15: USNS Alan Shepard in the vicinity of Tsushima Strait near Japan.
n December 22: USS John McCain near Spratly Islands, South China Sea. This statement also underlined that US had asserted its rights “without giving prior notification to or asking permission from any of the claimants…China, Taiwan, and Vietnam.”
December 24: USS John S. McCain in the vicinity of the Con Dao Islands in the South China Sea.
February 5, 2021: USS John S. McCain, near Parcel Islands, South China Sea
February 17: USS Russell, Spratly Islands, South China Sea
March 31: USNS Charles Drew (T-AKE 10) near Kuk-To Island, challenging South Korea’s claims.
April 3: USS John Paul Jones challenged Sri Lanka’s claims
April 7: USS John Paul challenged India’s and Maldives’ claims.
In the US, asked about India’s reaction over the US Navy’s move, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said: ” USS John Paul Jones, a Navy destroyer, asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Republic of the Maldives by conducting innocent passage through its territorial sea in normal operations within its exclusive economic zone without requesting prior permission”.
Earlier, announcing the operation, the statement by the Seventh Fleet said, “On April 7, 2021 (local time) USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, inside India’s exclusive economic zone, without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law.”
“We continue to maintain the right, indeed the responsibility, to fly, sail, and operate in accordance with international law,” Kirby added.
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