The verdict of the international court rejecting China's claims to the vast swathes of the South China Sea couldn't have come at a worse time for Beijing. For it happened at a time when the debate over China's obstructing India's entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on the grounds that the latter is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty is yet to be settled.
Now, after the Hague court have its verdict which has created quite a shockwave in the geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific, New Delhi has every right to ask: "If we can't become an NSG member on grounds of not signing the NPT, how can China flout the laws despite being a member of the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea)?" [South China Sea verdict: When nationalism clashes with internationalism]
A pertinent question put across to Beijing now.
China's hyper-nationalist journey has become an irreversible process
The South China Sea verdict may not see China obeying the norms but it will undoubtedly put the latter in a serious diplomatic disadvantage. In a pursuit of the "Chinese Dream" as has been envisioned by the current Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping, China has made its hyper-nationalist journey virtually a no-reversal process and seeing itself clashing with the international community.
China's loss of face is India's diplomatic victory
And just as one nationalism's loss is another's victory, the verdict on South China Sea will give an immense sense of satisfaction to both India and the United States, both of which have been facing a considerable amount of challenge from the Dragon Land. In fact, it is even more of a moral victory for India and a diplomatic high point for the US and those smaller maritime neighbours with which the Chinese are at loggerheads often.
India, in fact, did not lose the opportunity to take an indirect dig at China after the tribunals' verdict came out. "Sea lanes of communication passing through the South China Sea are critical for peace, stability, prosperity and development. As a State Party to the UNCLOS.. India urges all parties to show utmost respect for the UNCLOS, which establishes the international legal order of the seas and oceans" the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.
India had an adverse sea law verdict in July 2014 against Bangladesh but the two countries welcomed it
It was exactly two years ago when India faced a similar experience when a ruling by the same court over a maritime boundary dispute in the Bay of Bengal went in favour of Bangladesh. But that did not make the relations between the two countries worse as both welcomed the verdict. India, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, made it clear that it would pursue a 'good neighbour' policy while the friendly government of Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka said it was a "win-win situation for both Bangladesh and Dhaka".
At South China Sea, the overdose of nationalism has put China in a spot
Compare it with the South China Sea dispute where an overdose of nationalism has made the Chinese blind towards any amicable solution. They have made the entire issue so heated now that even a move back by the Jinping regime to comply with the verdict would be seen as a blow to the idea of "Chinese Dream" while a "who cares" approach could see tension building up in the region between China and its smaller neighbours and the US.
Former foreign secretary Shyam Saran described the development as a "damning indictment", saying China can escalate things more but it would only look a rogue state which has little respect for the international law.
Can Beijing risk to get bracketed with countries like North Korea and Pakistan that have the ill-reputation of being reckless?
India's opportunity post the verdict
Besides China's loss of face, the South China Sea episode would also give India the opportunity to engage more with South-east Asian countries who would now feel boosted and be ready to welcome new friends on board. Those having problems with China will now have the best period now to come together and prepare a counter mechanism for the future.
Focusing on Asean
New Delhi should now focus on improving its ties with Asean, the regional body of South-east Asia and try extract maximum benefit by playing the role of a balancer in case it gets polarised over the South China Sea issue.
Even India's NSG bid could benefit from the new dramatic situation which has emerged post the verdict on South China Sea.
Taking up fight against environmental degradation
On the environmental part, too, the South China Sea episode could boost the Modi government's emphasis on climate and environment. China's mammoth exercises in the South China Sea have inflicted huge environmental damage and it also gives New Delhi the ideal opportunity to corner Beijing more on a matter of soft internationalism to ultimately serve its own interest.