New Delhi, July 19 (IANS) India on Thursday called for a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region that should allow use of common spaces on sea and in the air.
“The Indo-Pacific must be a free, open and an inclusive region,” External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said in her keynote address at the ministerial session of this year’s Delhi Dialogue, the premier annual track 1.5 event to discuss politico-security, economic and socio-cultural engagement between India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) bloc.
“We must follow a common, rules-based order, that takes into account the equality of all, irrespective of size and strength.
“It should allow use of common spaces on sea and in the air,” she said.
Organised by the External Affairs Ministry and the Research and Information Systems (RIS) for Developing Nations think tank, the theme of the 10th edition of the Delhi Dialogue is “Strengthening India-Asean Maritime Cooperation”.
With India increasing its engagements with Southeast Asia under New Delhi’s Act East Policy, maritime cooperation has emerged as a key area of engagement with Asean, which comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
India, along with the US, Japan and Australia, are also part of a quad that was revived last year which seeks to work for peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.
In her speech, Sushma Swaraj also referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s keynote speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last month in which he stressed on the centrality of the Asean in the Indo-Pacfic region.
Stating that India’s interests in the Indo-Pacific are vast and engagement deep, she said: “Our vision, in one word, is SAGAR which stands for Security and Growth for All in the Region. We have a comprehensive agenda of regional cooperation with both IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association) and Asean.”
SAGAR is Modi’s maritime initiative which gives priority to the Indian Ocean region and seeks to ensure peace, stability and prosperity of India in it.
Stating that India’s vision of the Indo-Pacific not only involves physical inter-connectivity, she said it “also entails building bridges of trust, based on mutual respect, giving d1ue regard for sovereignty and territorial integrity, consultation, transparency, viability and sustainability”.
“Finally, there is an imperative need to eschew protectionism, nationalism and avoid a return to great power rivalries,” she said.
Her remarks came barely a week after the India-China maritime dialogue in which New Delhi outlined its vision for the Indo-Pacific region to allay Beijing’s apprehensions following the rise of the quad.
Sushma Swaraj also said that India has been working with Asean towards evolving a regional security architecture, while emphasising the importance of peaceful settlement of disputes in keeping with international law, and finding collaborative solutions to emerging and non-traditional challenges, strengthening cooperation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), search and rescue operations, anti-piracy, counter-terrorism, counter-proliferation and collaboration on maritime domain awareness.
“We will also work towards ecologically sustainable development of ocean resources in a collaborative framework.”
Stating that the Asean-India region together represents a combined population of 1.85 billion, which is a quarter of the global population, and a GDP of over $3.8 trillion, Sushma Swaraj said that India is also engaged in Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations – for a proposed free trade agreement between Asean members and six countries – Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand – with which it has free trade agreements.
In terms of infrastructure development, she stressed on transforming the corridors of connectivity between India and Southeast Asia into “corridors of economic cooperation”, citing the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project connecting the Sittwe port in Myanmar with India’s Mizoram state.
“Our recent agreement with Indonesia to develop port infrastructure in Sabang is yet another step in this direction,” she said.
She also said that work is already on on specific proposals to set up a regional high-capacity fibre-optic network, supplemented by national rural broadband networks and digital villages in remote areas.
“We have offered $1 billion line of credit to help finance these and other connectivity projects with Asean,” she said.
Earlier in the day, the two-day event started with a round table meeting attended by the Chief Ministers of all eight northeastern states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura.
Chairing the meeting, Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh stressed on the importance of the Northeast in India’s Act East Policy.