India on Friday backed the proposed Code of Conduct to be established between ASEAN and China to govern the use of the resource-rich South China Sea even as differences cropped up in the 10-nation South East Asian grouping over “internationalising” the issue.

The support by India, which has also been involved in a tiff with China over use of resources in the disputed mineral-rich maritime region, came a day ahead of the East Asia Summit where the issue is expected to come up. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be attending the Summit meet.

“We support efforts to arrive at a Code of Conduct and firm up measures by which South China Sea will be an area of cooperation,” Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told reporters here.

Asked whether the issue would be discussed at the East Asia Summit (EAS) tomorrow, he said, “leaders can discuss any issue they wish... Obviously when leaders meet they would take up issues which are of immediate concern but these issues should be discussed in the light of need for EAS to have overriding priority of building of bridges of cooperation among various countries“.

Citing the Prime Minister, Mathai said he has emphasised that EAS is important as a forum for acceleration economic development and enhancing economic interests of all the countries.

Over a year ago, India was involved in a tiff with China which objected to its exploration of hydrocarbons off the Vietnamese coast.

Mathai’s statement came against the backdrop of differences among the ASEAN members, with the Philippines refusing to agree with Cambodia to not to “internationalise” the dispute.

(This article was published on November 19, 2012)
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