Sharing platform with his Chinese counterpart, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh Thursday said that maritime security, cyber-related crimes and terrorism and threats to the rules-based order are some of the main challenges that ASEAN as a forum has to address. Singh also asked for a collective and collaborative effort to fight against Covid-19.
Speaking at the meeting of the defence ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), called the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM+), Singh said 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,” Singh added.
The Defence Minister said that “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 further said that the ADMM Plus, “has grown in the last decade to become the fulcrum of peace, stability and rules-based order in this region”.
“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. The ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific underscores this impetus to cultivate strategic trust and continuously promote ASEAN centrality in the regional architecture,” Singh said.
The comments come at a time when India and China are involved in an over seven-month-long military standoff in eastern Ladakh, resulting in a soured relation with China.
Speaking about the pandemic, Singh stated that “amongst the new challenges that have emerged, Covid-19 has changed the world and left us many hurdles to overcome” and “unfortunately, the disruptive effect of the pandemic is still unfolding”.
“The challenge is therefore to make sure that the world economy moves on the path of recovery and when it does gather steam, to ensure that the recovery leaves no one behind. It has forced us all to re-assess our healthcare infrastructure, focus on availability and affordability of vaccines and medicines, development of reliable supply chains, and highlighted the need for strong collaborations in medical research.”
He stressed that “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 mentioned that “we appreciate efforts of all the participants and are constantly looking at imbibing the best practices as institutionalised by the members in fighting” it.
Singh said that “our collective achievement in the past decade has been remarkable in advancing multilateral cooperation through strategic dialogue and practical security cooperation” and the composition of the forum “is another pillar of our strength as it includes defence ministries of 18 key countries that are major stake holders in the regional security dynamic”.
“Exercises in maritime security, humanitarian aid and disaster relief, counter-terrorism and peacekeeping operations bring together militaries of the members to jointly train and build confidence. The experts working group on humanitarian mine action promotes practical and effective cooperation in dealing with consequences of explosive remnants of war in the region.”
He also mentioned that “cybersecurity and military medicine are at the forefront of our challenges today” and called “the adoption of the concept paper on expanding ASEAN Direct Communication Infrastructure to the Plus countries” as another notable step.
“We also need to continue our efforts to address the threats of bioterrorism, transnational trafficking and pandemic diseases. Here, I would like to reiterate the importance of the support of the military establishments of our respective countries to their civilian law enforcement counterparts.” Singh said.
He also referred to the joint statement on Advancing Partnership for Sustainable Security in 2019, which, he said, “reflected the commitment of the ADMM Plus Defence Ministers to the maintenance of regional peace, stability and security”.
“As we stand at the threshold of adopting this year’s joint statement, I reiterate our objective to build capacity to address shared security challenges,” Singh added.
The challenges he mentioned, he said, “are becoming increasingly trans-boundary in character and we need to forge closer military-to-military interactions and cooperation amongst the ADMM Plus countries,” and said that 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”.
“The relevance of ADMM Plus in the future remains defined by the important role we play in bringing diverse countries together towards a common goal”.
Singh reiterated that “vasudhaive kutumbakam” that “the whole world is one family” and “sarve bhavantu sukhinah”, which means that “all be at peace” are “the core of the Indian civilization” and added that “therefore inclusivity, equality and openness are the principles underlining this concept”.
He complimented all members on the tenth anniversary of the ADMM Plus frum, and specially mentioned Vietnam, who is the current chair.