India’s nuanced approach in the South China Sea

India’s nuanced approach in the South China Sea


In March 2024, India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, declared India’s unwavering support for the Philippines in safeguarding its national sovereignty. This statement came amidst the escalating tensions in the South China Sea, also known as the West Philippine Sea, between Manila and Beijing.


  • The region witnessed a tumultuous year in 2023, characterized by frequent maritime confrontations and diplomatic strains.
  • India’s vocal endorsement of the Philippines signifies a significant departure from its previous cautious and neutral stance on the South China Sea issue.
  • This shift reflects India’s evolving foreign policy approach, emphasizing adherence to international maritime law and the preservation of sovereignty in the South China Sea.

GS-02 (International Relations)

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Issue
  • Importance of the South China Sea
  • About the South China Sea
  • Consequences
  • Implications


  • The South China Sea has emerged as a hotspot of geopolitical tensions, primarily due to China’s expansive territorial claims and aggressive militarization efforts.
  • The ongoing disputes in this region pose a threat to regional stability and maritime security, with far-reaching implications for countries in the Indo-Pacific region, including India.
  • India’s strategic interests and its commitment to upholding international norms are directly impacted by developments in the South China Sea, making it imperative for New Delhi to actively engage in the resolution of these disputes.

About the South China Sea:

  • The South China Sea is a strategically significant waterway bordered by several countries, including China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia.
  • It serves as a vital maritime corridor for global trade, facilitating the passage of goods worth trillions of dollars annually. However, overlapping territorial claims and competing maritime interests have fueled tensions in the region, leading to frequent maritime incidents and diplomatic standoffs.

Importance of the South China Sea:

  • Situated between China, Taiwan, Indo-Chinese peninsula, Indonesia, Brunei, and the Philippines, it connects the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea, serving as a vital maritime route.
  • With trade worth USD 3.37 trillion passing through in 2016, it’s a crucial global trade artery. Around 80% of global trade volume and 70% by value move by sea, with a significant portion traversing Asia, including one-third through the South China Sea.
  • China heavily relies on this route, with 64% of its trade passing through. India also depends on it for approximately 55% of its trade. However, only 14% of U.S. trade utilizes these waters.
  • Besides trade, it’s a major fishing ground, supporting millions in the region for livelihood and food security.


  • The escalating tensions in the South China Sea have profound consequences for regional stability and security.
  • The militarization of disputed islands and the establishment of exclusive zones by China threaten the freedom of navigation and overflight, essential for global trade and commerce. Moreover, the potential for maritime conflicts and inadvertent clashes poses a risk to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • The South China Sea disputes also undermine trust and confidence among neighboring countries, hindering efforts towards regional cooperation and economic integration.


  • India’s evolving stance on the South China Sea reflects its growing strategic interests and its commitment to upholding international law. By aligning itself with countries like the Philippines and advocating for a rules-based maritime order, India seeks to counter China’s unilateral actions and safeguard its own maritime interests.
  • However, India’s deepening engagement in the South China Sea could further exacerbate tensions with China, complicating an already complex bilateral relationship.
  • India’s support for the Philippines and other claimant states may strain its relations with Beijing, potentially impacting trade and economic ties between the two countries.

Suggested Measures:

  • Diplomatic Engagement: India should continue to engage diplomatically with all stakeholders involved in the South China Sea disputes, including China and ASEAN countries. By fostering dialogue and promoting peaceful resolution mechanisms, India can contribute to de-escalating tensions and building confidence among neighboring states.
  • Multilateral Cooperation: India should strengthen its partnerships with like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific region to collectively address security challenges in the South China Sea. Enhanced cooperation through forums such as the Quad and ASEAN-led mechanisms can bolster regional security architecture and promote respect for international norms.
  • Maritime Security Assistance: India should provide technical assistance and capacity-building support to ASEAN countries to enhance their maritime capabilities and surveillance capabilities. By assisting in the development of maritime infrastructure and coast guard capabilities, India can contribute to maritime domain awareness and security in the South China Sea.
  • Economic Engagement: India should explore opportunities for economic cooperation and investment in ASEAN countries to foster closer ties and promote regional stability. By expanding trade and investment linkages, India can contribute to the economic development of the region and strengthen its strategic partnerships.
  • Adherence to International Law: India should continue to uphold the principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and support efforts to resolve disputes in accordance with established legal frameworks. By promoting adherence to international norms, India can reinforce its commitment to a rules-based maritime order and contribute to peace and stability in the South China Sea.


India’s evolving approach to the South China Sea reflects its strategic imperatives and commitment to upholding international norms. By actively engaging in the resolution of disputes and promoting regional cooperation, India can play a constructive role in maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. However, navigating the complex dynamics of the South China Sea requires a careful balance of diplomatic, economic, and security measures to effectively address the challenges posed by the ongoing disputes.