The United States will not hesitate to stand up for its allies in the ongoing dispute over the South China Sea but it supports diplomatic efforts, not military action, said US Secretary of State John Kerry.
"We are not a claimant... We haven't taken a position on anybody's claim. We want to support a code of conduct for the management of the South China Sea. We support diplomacy," said Mr Kerry yesterday. He added that "there is no military solution".
Mr Kerry, who is in India on a three-day visit, was responding to questions on a range of issues from students at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.
He said: "On the other hand, we will stand up for our rights, and we will stand with our allies, particularly where we have a defence agreement, in protecting that agreement, and in protecting rights of other nations with respect to their freedom of navigation."
He said the US was not interested in "fanning the flames of conflict but rather trying to encourage the parties to resolve their disputes and claims through the legal process and through diplomacy".
We (India and the US) are cooperating in our approach to the tribunal and our recognition of the rule of law with respect of South China Sea. We both understand that decision was legally binding.
MR JOHN KERRY, US Secretary of State, on the July ruling by the Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague.
China has been embroiled in territorial disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines, and other countries in the South China Sea. It has refused to accept a July ruling by the Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague, in a case lodged by the Philippines over the disputed waters.
"We (India and the US) are cooperating in our approach to the tribunal and our recognition of the rule of law with respect to the South China Sea. We both understand that the decision was legally binding," said Mr Kerry.
On Tuesday, the two countries held a second annual Strategic and Commercial Dialogue. In a joint statement, they said there must be "unimpeded lawful commerce" in the South China Sea and urged resolution of disputes through peaceful means.
India has avoided involvement in the South China Sea disputes and reacted cautiously to the tribunal's ruling, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi has moved to increase military and maritime links with the US as China grows more assertive in the region.
The US sees India as a natural ally in the Asia-Pacific to counterbalance China's moves in the region.
In fact, the US and India have been holding regular military exercises, and last year signed a joint strategic vision, in a move towards greater maritime and security cooperation. On Monday, they signed a military logistics pact that would allow each country to use the other's military bases for refuelling and repair facilities.
Experts said Mr Kerry's visit was an important milestone in ties, even though he represents an outgoing administration.
"There is, overall, a very cooperative and congenial atmosphere. This visit has further strengthened the relationship between the two countries. The strategic partnership is on an upward trajectory," said Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Chintamani Mahapatra.
Mr Kerry also spoke on other issues yesterday, noting the South Asian giant needed to create 13 million jobs every year and make greater strides in economic growth.
He said: "Even though we are witnessing impressive gains in India's economic growth, there is still a real question as to whether we are doing so quickly enough." There is also a need for "sensible regulation", and a streamlined bureaucracy, he added.