Alluding to China at an ASEAN meeting also attended by his Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh Thursday flagged “threats to the rules-based order” as one of the main challenges that need to be addressed, and called for “avoiding actions that may further complicate the situation”.
Singh’s comments at the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus), chaired by Vietnam, come at a time when India and China remain engaged in a military standoff along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, and tensions continue to mount in the South China Sea.
Singh told the gathering of Defence Ministers that “our ability to collectively respond to challenges in the region, based on the fundamentals of freedom, inclusivity and openness, will define our future”.
“Threats to the rules-based order, maritime security, cyber-related crimes and terrorism, just to name a few, remain the challenges that we need to address as a forum,” he said.
“Amid the current regional environment with visible strains, we appreciate the central role of ASEAN-led forums, including ADMM-Plus in promoting dialogue and engagement towards a pluralistic, cooperative security order in Asia,” he said.
“As we enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercising self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoiding actions that may further complicate the situation will go a long way in bringing sustained peace to the region,” Singh said.
“The ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific underscores this impetus to cultivate strategic trust and continuously promote ASEAN centrality in the regional architecture,” he said.
He said the challenges “are becoming increasingly trans-boundary in character and we need to forge closer military-to-military interactions and cooperation amongst the ADMM-Plus countries”.
The “conduct of field training exercises and table-top exercises amongst the ADMM-Plus countries are important tools for us to understand each other, cooperate to enhance security and maintain peace in the region,” he said.
On the Covid-19 pandemic and fallout, Singh said “since the virus does not respect national boundaries, the response to the pandemic also needs to be collective and collaborative”.
Covid-19, he said, “is our common challenge which requires endeavours at all levels,” and “we appreciate efforts of all the participants and are constantly looking at imbibing the best practices as institutionalised by the members” in fighting it.