A public statement issued by the Seventh Fleet of the US Navy after it’s warship entered India’s Exclusive Economic Zone during a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) has caused unrest among diplomats in Delhi. The USS John Paul Jones conducted it’s operation west of Lakshadweep Islands on April 7. According to the Indian Express, this statement was published due to a new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) which was recently adopted by the US Navy.
The Seventh Fleet of the US Navy has conducted Freedom Of Navigation operations in nine countries to challenge “excessive maritime claims” made by them. There have been operations in Russia, Japan, China, Vietnam, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Maldives and India. This list includes not only adversaries, but also allies of the United States like India and Japan.
It’s important to note that the phrase “not requesting prior consent or permission” occurs only in the statements of the operations conducted in the South China Sea on December 22, along with India, Maldives and Sri Lanka in April. The reason this statement has received so much flak from the officials in the South Block is because they feel that underlining ‘without India’s consent’ in the report is ‘bad optics’, especially since the term was also used for China. The term was not used in the report for their other Quad partner, Japan.
The official statement of the operation said, “On April 7, 2021 (local time) USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, inside India’s exclusive economic zone, without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law.”
The US naval fleet’s movements have not been challenged by India and it has accommodated the FONOP. A feeling of cooperation has been developed between the two nations in the recent past due to their Quad grouping. Therefore, the fact that this specific phrase was included in India’s report has come as an added shock to South Block.
The statement caused tension between both parties and diplomats will need to resolve the situation. The Pentagon and South Block got in touch after the statement was released last Friday. Both sides maintain that this statement will not in any way affect their Quad grouping. However, a South Block official said that this statement has “created some trust deficit”.
This article has been written by Sherwyn Fernandes for The Paradigm.
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