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What the illegal entry of USS John Paul Jones into India’s EEZ could mean

In episode 721 of #CutTheClutter, Shekhar Gupta unpacks the issues of international relations through the sea laws after the US ship sailed through Indian EEZ without intimation.

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New Delhi: In a statement, the US Friday said its guided missile destroyer, the USS John Paul Jones, sailed through India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) without any intimation. The move was in violation of Indian law, but the US asserted that it was consistent with international law.

In view of the illegal entry of USS John Paul Jones into Indian waters, ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta unpacked the complicated issues of international relations through the laws of the sea, in episode 721 of ‘Cut The Clutter’.

The USS John Paul Jones is a 9,000-tonne American guided missile destroyer and it is over-a-quarter-century-old ship. It floated into the vicinity of Lakshadweep Islands, said Gupta.

Any country’s EEZ is 200 nautical miles, which is quite a large area. The US Navy ship was about 131 nautical miles away from the Indian coast.  “It was well within the Indian exclusive economic zone. Now, this caused an immediate kerfuffle,” Gupta said. 

In its statement Friday, the US Navy 7th Fleet also said that this ship had come into India’s EEZ to assert its rights of FONOPs — the freedom of navigation operations. Gupta pointed out that the Americans had the “gumption” to issue a statement saying that the ship went into the zone without any notification to the India authority.

“The consternation on the India side was that the Americans that came could have told us, they are our friends… We are part of the Quad together. Same ships exercise together and exchange signal messages. They are building interoperability,” Gupta explained.

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‘Message to China’ 

Gupta said the Indian authorities would be wondering, what is the motive behind Americans making a public statement about this. The Indian government spokesperson has said the move looked like a message to China.

India ratified the international law of the seas — called UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on Law of the Seas) — in 1995. The US hasn’t ratified it yet. “They (the US) accept this law in its essence in most areas, except in one area, which is that the authority to explore for mineral deposits in the seabed on high seas,” Gupta said.

China is a signatory to this law too. 

While ratifying this law, India laid the condition that any military vessels coming into its EEZ will be required to inform India. “But, the Chinese on the other hand, made it much tougher. The Chinese said that nobody can come into their exclusive economic zone without their consent,” said Gupta.

But the Chinese have been “conjuring up” islands anywhere in the seas, especially South China Sea, he said. 

“American ships are also carrying out manoeuvres in those waters to challenge China and to make the point that they have the freedom of navigation,” he noted, adding that the US has been doing this in the Indian EEZ for a while.

Gupta referred to a 2017 Brookings paper written by Iskander Rehman, to say: “The Americans violated that rule that India has imposed, to make the point that no country has the right to make any rules on top of an international convention which the Americans haven’t ratified.”

He said a clarification from the American side would likely come in the next day or two. One interpretation could be, “the Americans have spoken quietly to their Indian counterparts and said this is a message to China, don’t take unkindly to it”, Gupta said. 

He further suggested that the ship’s illegal entry could simply be “because someone made a mistake”.

Watch the full episode here:

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