Flagging India’s concerns over security challenges in the maritime sphere, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday called for a rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific and underlined the need for ensuring freedom of navigation, overflight and unimpeded commerce in the international waterways including the South China Sea.
In a virtual address at the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus), Singh said the developments in the South China Sea have attracted attention in the region and beyond, seen as an oblique reference to China’s aggressive behaviour in the critical sea lanes.
The defence minister also said that terrorism and radicalisation are the gravest threats to global peace and security and pitched for collective efforts to fully disrupt the terrorist organisations and their networks.
The ADMM-Plus is a platform comprising 10-nation ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and its eight dialogue partners — India, China, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States.
Referring to the challenges in the maritime domain, Singh said India stood for a rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific based on respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, peaceful resolution of disputes through dialogue and adherence to international rules and laws.
He said India hoped that the code of conduct negotiations will lead to outcomes that are in keeping with international law, including the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and will not prejudice the legitimate rights and interests of nations that are not party to these discussions.
Without naming China or any other country, Singh said new challenges to international peace and security are emerging and they cannot be addressed with outdated systems that were designed to deal with “trials of the past”.
“Maritime security challenges are another area of concern to India. The sea lanes of communication are critical for peace, stability, prosperity and development of the Indo-Pacific region,” he said.
“In this regard, developments in the South China Sea have attracted attention in the region and beyond. India supports freedom of navigation, overflight, and unimpeded commerce in these international waterways,” the defence minister said.
Talking about the Indo-Pacific, Singh said India has strengthened its cooperative engagements in the region based on converging visions and values for promotion of peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.
“Premised upon the centrality of ASEAN, India supports utilisation of ASEAN-led mechanisms as important platforms for implementation of our shared vision for the Indo-Pacific,” the defence minister said.
Referring to the threat from terror networks, Singh called for strong action against those encouraging, supporting and financing terrorism and provide shelter to terrorists, in remarks seen as directed at Pakistan.
“Terrorism and radicalisation are the gravest threats to peace and security that the world is facing today,” he said.
The defence minister said India, as a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), remained committed to combat financing of terrorism.
“India shares global concerns about terrorism and believes that, in an era when networking amongst terrorists is reaching alarming proportions, only through collective cooperation can the terror organizations and their networks be fully disrupted, the perpetrators identified and held accountable,” he said.
Delving into the coronavirus crisis, Singh said India is just emerging from a second wave of the infection that pushed the country’s medical response to the “limit” and called for concerted global approach like making available patent-free vaccines, unhindered supply chains and ensuring greater medical capacities to defeat the pandemic.
Singh said the disruptive effect of the pandemic is still unfolding.
“The virus is mutating fast and testing our response as we find new variants that are more infective and potent. India is just emerging from a second wave that pushed our medical response to the limit,” he said.
“But the disruptive effect of the pandemic is still unfolding. The test is therefore to make sure that the world economy moves on the path of recovery and to ensure that the recovery leaves no one behind. I am convinced that this is only possible if the entire humanity is vaccinated,” Singh said.
The defence minister also talked about India’s deep connection with the ASEAN and said New Delhi continued to attach importance to the grouping’s centrality in ensuring peace and stability in the region.
“The India-ASEAN strategic partnership has been strengthened by virtue of flourishing cultural and civilizational links and enhanced people-to-people cooperation. India continues to attach importance to ASEAN centrality and unity in ensuring peace and stability in the region,” he said.
In his remarks, Singh also referred to cyber threats saying they loom large as demonstrated by incidents of “ransomware, wannacry attacks and crypto currency thefts” and are a cause of concern.
“A multi-stakeholder approach, guided by democratic values, with a governance structure that is open and inclusive and a secure, open and stable internet with due respect to sovereignty of countries, would drive the future of cyberspace,” he said.
The inaugural ADMM-Plus was convened in Hanoi in 2010.
The defence ministers then had agreed on five areas of practical cooperation to pursue under the new mechanism, including maritime security, counter-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping operations.