India on PH-China row: Patience pays

Paterno R. Esmaquel II
'When you're dealing with China, you have to be patient,' India tells the Philippines

PH'S PARTNER. Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario meets with Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid at the DFA on Oct 18. Photo by Noel Celis/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – Seen as an emerging player in South China Sea disputes, India on Tuesday, October 22, advised the Philippines to keep its cool in dealing with China even after Manila took Beijing to an international tribunal.

“My advice is, patience does pay,” Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said in an open forum after a lecture at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Pasay City.

Khurshid said the Philippines and China, like other countries, can “ring-fence the difficulties but continue working in areas where there is potential for convergence and growth.”

He added patience, too, is the key in dealing with old civilizations like China. He encouraged the Philippines to think “out of the box.”

“When you’re dealing with China, you have to be patient. It is important because it’s an old civilization. We are an old civilization. We have learned to work with patience in a steady pace that is acceptable to both. And I think every country needs to do this,” Khurshid explained.

The foreign minister on Tuesday delivered a lecture titled, “The Shaping of India’s Foreign Policy,” to inaugurate the Rizal-Nehru Memorial Lecture Series at the DFA. He made an official visit to the Philippines from Monday, October 21, to Tuesday, for talks on bilateral cooperation.

Balancing act

In his lecture, Khurshid did not explicitly support the Philippines’ unprecedented case against China before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (Itlos).

Rather, he played a balancing act in discussing the row between China, one of its largest trading partners, and the Philippines, which he called a “very, very critical stepping stone” to the Pacific.

On one hand, he said the Itlos case “is one answer” to the two countries’ maritime row.

The foreign minister, on the other hand, echoed China’s favorite line: better to talk one-on-one than to seek 3rd parties in disputes.

“We do believe that anything that is a bilateral dispute between two nations, must be settled by those two nations, and there is no place for a 3rd country to interfere, even as a friend. But if someone seeks advice, if someone seeks comfort, of course we will give it. And there is no problem there at all,” he said. 

‘Major landmark’

He added he is optimistic about the crafting of a Code of Conduct (COC) on the South China Sea.

The COC “would guide all parties in creating conditions for the peaceful and durable settlement of disputes,” according to a primer by the University of the Philippines’ Asian Center and its Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.

Khurshid noted “attempts to build a consensus” for COC after a period of “resistance.”

The first official ASEAN-China consultations on the COC took place in Suzhou, China, in September, as Philippine President Benigno Aquino III noted earlier in October. READ: Aquino takes jab at China: ‘Follow the law.’

Khurshid said: “There was a sense that movement, slow as it was, has begun toward a Code of Conduct. And I think it will be, when it comes, a major landmark in your attempt to find a peaceful resolution. Consensus itself will be a clear indication of the unique support for a peaceful resolution of this.”

Growing influence

In recent years, India has made its presence more pervasive in the Asia-Pacific.

In fact, it agitated China after it signed an oil exploration deal with Vietnam in 2011. China stressed its “indisputable sovereignty” over disputed portions of the South China Sea.

“China opposes unilateral exploration and development of oil and gas in contested waters of the South China Sea. We hope relevant countries can respect China’s claim, position and rights and interests, and respect and support efforts made by countries in the region to solve disputes through bilateral negotiations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in December 2012, referring to India.

F. M. Tunvir Shahriar, research officer at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, recognized that India “is gradually becoming more influential and getting more involved” in South China Sea disputes.

Up to 55% of India’s Asia-Pacific trade passes through the South China Sea, the researcher noted in his paper, “South China Sea Dispute: Asian Detonator to A Global Catastrophe?”

Harsh Pant, professor at King’s College in London, wrote on Yale Global Online that China and India have begun a “quiet struggle” in the South China Sea.

In an article titled “South China Sea: New Arena of Sino-Indian Rivalry,” Pant said: “India’s interest in access to Vietnam’s energy resources puts it in direct conflict with China’s claims over the territory. In an ultimate analysis, this issue is not merely about commerce and energy. It is about strategic rivalry between two rising powers in the Asian landscape.”

“If China can expand its presence in the Indian Ocean region, as New Delhi anticipates, India can also do the same in South China Sea waters. As China’s power grows, it will test India’s resolve for maintaining a substantive presence in the South China Sea,” he added. –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email