In a veiled reference to China's aggressive military behaviour, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday said exercising self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoiding actions that may further complicate situation will go a long way in bringing sustained regional peace. In his address at the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus), Singh also said terrorism remains a major scourge for the region and the world. The structures that support and sustain terrorism continue to exist, including in India's neighbourhood, he said in an apparent reference to terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
He called for stronger commitment and need to strengthen international mechanism to fight terrorism, "jointly and vigorously". Talking about key geo-strategic issues, the defence minister highlighted India's vision for an open and inclusive order in the Indo-Pacific region based on respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations and peaceful resolution of disputes through dialogue.
Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe was among those who attended the virtual meeting of the ADMM-Plus, 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. "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.
Singh's comments came amid the seven-month-long military standoff between India and China in eastern Ladakh, and Beijing's increasingly aggressive military behaviour in the South China Sea and Indo-Pacific region. A number of ASEAN member nations have territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea. The defence minister also said the ability of the grouping to collectively respond to challenges based on the fundamentals of freedom, inclusivity and openness in the region will define its 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. The defence ministry, in a statement, said Singh also emphasised that the Indo-Pacific region confronts numerous traditional and non-traditional security threats.
It said he recalled the launch of the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during last year's East Asia Summit and mentioned the commonality between the IPOI and ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific. He also reiterated India's support to freedom of navigation and overflight for all in international waters in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
In his address, Singh talked about "the current regional environment with visible strains", and appreciated the central role of ASEAN-led forums, including ADMM-Plus in promoting dialogue and engagement towards a pluralistic, cooperative security order in Asia. "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.
The defence minister said the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific underscored the impetus to cultivate strategic trust and continuously promote ASEAN centrality in the regional architecture. "The concepts of 'vasudhaive kutumbakam'-'the whole world is one family', and 'sarve bhavantu sukhinah' — 'all be at peace'- are the core of the Indian civilisation. Therefore, inclusivity, equality and openness are the principles underlining this concept," he said.
The defence minister also called for sustained efforts to address the threats of bio-terrorism, transnational trafficking and pandemics, and emphasised on building capacity to address shared security challenges. Singh underlined the need for confronting the challenges emerging from the coronavirus pandemic.
"Amongst the new challenges that have emerged, COVID-19 has changed the world and left us many hurdles to overcome. 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," Singh 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.
"A special commemorative 10th anniversary celebration was conducted which was attended by Prime Minister of Socialist Republic of Vietnam Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Raksha mantri was extended the privilege to address the celebratory session as a special gesture reflecting India's recognition by the forum," the defence ministry said.