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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Support freedom of navigation in South China Sea: Rajnath Singh at ASEAN meet

The South China Sea is a major point of dispute between China and the US. Washington has rejected Beijing’s territorial claims over the resource-rich waters. China, in recent years, has increased its military presence in the South China Sea.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
June 16, 2021 10:33:05 pm
Rajnath Singh, Rajnath inaugurates roads in border areas, Border Roads Organisation, Galwan clash, indian army, India news, indian expressDefence Minister Rajnath Singh. (PTI/File)

Developments in the South China Sea have attracted international attention and India supports freedom of navigation in these international waters, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said Wednesday in a reference to China’s aggressive claims over the key waterway.

Speaking at a meeting of ASEAN Defence Ministers, 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.”

China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin were also present during the virtual meeting, which also included defence ministers of the ten Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries and eight dialogue partner countries, including Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea and Russia. India, China and the US are also dialogue partners.

Singh said “developments in the South China Sea have attracted attention in the region and beyond” adding that “India supports freedom of navigation, overflight, and unimpeded commerce in these international waterways”. He expressed hope that the Code of Conduct negotiations will lead to outcomes in keeping with international law, including the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) “and do not prejudice the legitimate rights and interests of nations that are not party to these discussions”.

The South China Sea is a major point of dispute between China and the US. Washington has rejected Beijing’s territorial claims over the resource-rich waters. China, in recent years, has increased its military presence in the South China Sea.

Delivering his address that the 8th ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Plus Meeting (ADDM-PLUS), Singh said that “maritime security challenges are another area of concern to India” and the sea lane of communication is critical for peace, stability, prosperity and development of the Indo-Pacific region”.

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”.

He mentioned that 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” which, he said, should be “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,” Singh said.

He was expressing India’s views on the regional and international security environment and said that “it is important for us to understand each other and respect our individual views while we strive together towards a common goal in the evolving security environment”.

Covid-19 pandemic, he said, is the “immediate challenge facing us collectively” as the “virus is mutating fast and testing our response as we find new variants that are more infective and potent”. The second wave form which India is emerging, he said, “pushed our medical response to the limit”.

However, he said that its “disruptive effect” is “still unfolding” and 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 entire humanity is vaccinated. Globally available patent free vaccines, unhindered supply chains and greater global medical capacities are some of the lines of effort that India has suggested for a combined effort.”

The present regional and international security environment, Singh said, “new challenges to international peace and security are emerging” and the “multitude of challenges of today’s dynamic and interdependent world cannot be addressed with outdated systems that were designed to deal with trials of the past”.

He termed “terrorism and radicalization” as the “gravest threats to peace and security that the world is facing today” and stated that “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 be undertaken against those who encourage, support and finance terrorism and provide sanctuary to terrorists”.

He emphasised that as a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) “India remains committed to combat financing of terrorism”.

Touching upon the new age threats, Singh mentioned that “cyber threats loom large” citing incidents of ransomware and crypto currency thefts, calling them 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,” Singh said.

He mentioned that as a founding member of the Heads of Asian Coast Guard Agencies Meeting (HACGAM), “India seeks to enhance capacity building through collaboration in the areas of Maritime Search and Rescue”.

India shares a “deep connect with ASEAN and has continued its active engagement in many areas contributing to regional peace and stability” and “continues to attach importance” to its “centrality and unity in ensuring peace and stability in the region”.

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