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Jaishankar backs Philippines in South China Sea, riles China

Amid increasing China-Philippines tensions in South China Sea (SCS), foreign minister S Jaishankar Tuesday backed the southeast Asian country's efforts to uphold its sovereignty after a meeting with his counterpart Enrique Manalo in Manila.
The meeting took place a day after thePhilippines summoned the Chinese ambassador and lodged a protest against China's ``aggressive actions'' in the South China Sea, nearly 90 per cent of which is claimed by Beijing.

The US also last week condemned China's "dangerous'' actions against what it called lawful Philippine maritime operations.
Calling for strict adherence to a rules-based order, Jaishankar reiterated ``firmly India’s support to the Philippines for upholding its national sovereignty''. The minister underlined the significance of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) 1982 as the constitution of the seas, calling upon all parties to adhere to it in its entirety, both in letter and in spirit.
However, unlike after their last meeting in India in June 2023, the ministers stopped short of asking China specifically to abide by a 2016 legally binding ruling that strongly refuted China's expansive claims in its dispute with the Philippines. India had then joined Manila for the first time, as stated in a joint statement, in categorically asking China to abide by the 2016 Arbitral Award on the SCS that Beijing continues to ignore. The UNCLOS arbitration tribunal had called Beijing’s nine-dash line, which claims sovereignty over 90 percent of SCS water, and its reclamation activities in the Philippine waters unlawful.

Jaishankar's remark on Tuesday was enough to rile China though, as its foreign ministry hit back saying maritime disputes are issues between the countries concerned and that third parties have no right to interfere whatsoever.
``We urge relevant parties to face squarely the facts and truth on the South China Sea issue, and respect China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests and the efforts of regional countries to keep the South China Sea peaceful and stable,'' said spokesperson Lin Jian.

Jaishankar said that as a nation deeply invested in that region because of its Act East