India at New Delhi has taken a cautious step over the demands of Association of Southeast Asian countries over China's act of dominating on South China Sea to intervene in this matter.
Rejecting the demands of ASEAN, India stated that the issue of sovereignty must be resolved by countries which are party to the dispute. However, India has strongly backed the freedom of navigation and right of passage.
In a veiled message to China to curb its assertiveness in the South China Sea, India and the 10-nation ASEAN grouping at the end of a special commemorative summit, said it.
"There are fundamental issues there that do not require India's intervention," External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told reporters here after the end of the plenary of the India-ASEAN commemorative summit.
"There are some issues like those of sovereignty which should be resolved between the countries concerned," he said.
There are better ways than intervention, he said when asked about Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung's remarks that India should play a role in resolving the dispute in the South China Sea by peaceful means.
Khurshid also sought to dispel the impression of rivalry between the growing economies of India and China, saying that the advantages of cooperation outweigh issues that arise from time to time.
Speaking at the plenary, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: "As maritime nations, India and ASEAN nations should intensify their engagement for maritime security and safety, for freedom of navigation and for peaceful settlement of maritime disputes in accordance with international law."
In their speeches, leaders of various Southeast Asian countries attending the summit backed freedom of navigation and increased cooperation among ASEAN countries in the maritime domain.
"At this time of rising concerns about maritime issues, the need to maintain a high level of maritime security and freedom of navigation offers us ... an opportunity for enhanced cooperation," said Philippines Vice President Jejomar Binay.
The vision document issued at the end of India-ASEAN summit came out strongly in support of maritime security and elevated India's ties with ASEAN to the level of strategic partnership.
"We are committed to strengthening cooperation to ensure maritime security and freedom of navigation and safety of sea lanes of communication for unfettered movement of trade in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS," it said.
Issues relating to the South China Sea figured in discussions between Manmohan Singh and the leaders of the 10 countries from Southeast Asia, said reliable sources.
China claims sovereignty over the entire South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Recently, China objected sharply to Indian Navy chief Admiral D K Joshi's remarks that the navy was ready to protect Indian economic interests in the disputed South China Sea.
--With IANS Inputs--