India supports freedom of navigation, over flight, and unimpeded commerce in these international waterways, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Wednesday as he spoke about maritime security challenges and made a reference to developments in the South China Sea hinting at China’s expansionist policy.
“The sea lanes of communication are critical for peace, stability, prosperity and development of the Indo-Pacific region. In this regard, developments in the South China Sea have attracted attention in the region and beyond,” Rajnath Singh said in his address at the eighth meeting of defence ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Rajnath Singh was referring to the escalating territorial conflict in the South China Sea. China lays claim to nearly all of South China leading to tensions over territorial rights in the waters with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
Earlier this month, Malaysia scrambled jets to intercept Chinese aircraft it accused of breaching its airspace.
“India hopes that the Code of Conduct negotiations will lead to outcomes that are in keeping with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and do not prejudice the legitimate rights and interests of nations that are not a party to these discussions,” he said.
India calls for a free, open and inclusive order in the Indo-Pacific, based upon respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, peaceful resolution of disputes through dialogue and adherence to international rules and laws, Rajnath Singh said.
The ministers gathered online for a meeting hosted by Brunei, this year’s ASEAN chair.
“India has strengthened its cooperative engagements in the Indo-Pacific based on converging visions and values for promotion of peace, stability, and prosperity in the region,” the minister said.
The minister added that India supports the utilisation of ASEAN-led mechanisms as important platforms for the implementation of our shared vision for the Indo-Pacific.
India’s engagement with the South East Asian region, of which ASEAN has been a primary component, is based on its ‘Act East Policy’ announced by PM Narendra Modi in November, 2014.
Key elements of this policy are to promote economic cooperation, cultural ties and develop strategic relationships with countries in the Indo-Pacific region through continuous engagement at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels.
Talking about terrorism, Singh said terrorism and radicalization are the gravest threats to peace and security that the world is facing today.
He said 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, and strong measures are undertaken against those who encourage, support and finance terrorism and provide sanctuary to terrorists.
“As a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), India remains committed to combat financing of terrorism,” the minister said.
He also asserted that cyber threats loom large, as demonstrated by incidents of ransomware, Wannacry attacks and cryptocurrency 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 the sovereignty of countries, would drive the future of cyberspace, Singh said.
He also said that India shares a deep connect with ASEAN and has continued its active engagement in many areas contributing to regional peace and stability, particularly through ASEAN-led mechanisms.