The United States has further toned down the discord over a naval operation carried out by that country within India’s maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ) last week. The exercise, which did not have India’s permission, was conducted off the Lakshadweep coast and had rankled India which immediately registered its opposition via diplomatic channels.
“On April 7, the USS John Paul Jones, part of the US Navy Seventh Fleet, conducted a routine Freedom of Navigation Operation in the Indian Ocean. This operation demonstrates longstanding US support for international law and freedom of the seas worldwide,” a US Department of Defense spokesperson has said, in an indicator that the US wants to set the record straight.
“We value our partnership with India on a wide range of issues, including regional security across the Indo-Pacific,” the spokesperson said.
The Destroyer USS John Paul Jones had conducted the Freedom of Navigation Operations near Lakshadweep, notwithstanding India’s maritime security policy of such exercises requiring its authorisation.
A US Seventh Fleet Public Affairs statement had said that India’s insistence on authorising such operations was “inconsistent with international law”.
India responded by saying the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea does not let other States carry out military exercises or manoeuvres in EEZs and on the continental shelf without the consent of the coastal state.
On Sunday, Pentagon Press Secretary John F Kirby referred to the exercise by the Destroyer USS John Paul Jones as “innocent passage” through the waters off the Maldives, indicating that military manoeuvres had not been carried out.
This recent dissonance over maritime matters is unusual since New Delhi and Washington DC are both members of the Quad grouping, committed to protecting freedom of navigation in international waterways with a specific concern on China’s maritime expansionism.
The Quad consists of the US, India, Japan, and Australia, and is viewed as a buffer against an increasingly assertive Beijing.