India backs South China Sea non-militarisation

Photo: India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh addressing the 6th ADDM Plus meeting in Bangkok today.

Bangkok: In what is seen as a strong message to China, India today favoured non-militarisation of the South China Sea and was against the use or threat of force in the region, which has witnessed recent verbal conflict among littoral nations over Beijing’s aggressive land reclamation efforts to alter territorial claims.

India’s Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh, addressing the 6th ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM Plus) in Thailand’s capital, was sanguine that the outcome of the negotiations for a ‘Code of Conduct’ for South China Sea will keep with all relevant international laws, including United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and promote freedom of navigation, overflight and lawful commerce.

Emphasising the need to protect the rights of States that are not party to these negotiations, the Indian defence minister also was hopeful “the situation will remain stable, without the use or threat of use of force or militarisation of the region.”

Rajnath Singh said India’s Indo-Pacific vision is based on the idea of sustainable security, as it focuses on “a free, open, inclusive and rules-based” region; one in which there is respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of everyone involved.

He said sustainability implies prioritisation of peaceful resolution of disputes, avoidance of use or threat of use of force and adherence to international laws. “Our region must remain open and welcoming to the interests of all, those who live in it and others whose interests are in it. In short, our approach to security in the Indo-Pacific is sustainable by definition because it emphasises ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region‘ (SAGAR).”

Photo: Leaders of ADDM Plus at the grouping’s meeting in Bangkok today.

He also called upon the international community to eliminate terrorist safe havens, disrupt their networks and financing and thwart their cross-border movement to ensure sustainable regional security.

Describing terrorism as the most obvious and heinous of cross-border crimes, the defence minister said some States use terror to pursue political goals making regional security vulnerable. He did not directly name any country, though, in his remarks, but the reference was easy to decipher, as India has been a victim of Pakistan’s State policy of using terrorism against its neighbour.

“It is so much worse when terrorists are aided, abetted, armed, financed and sheltered by States. The interplay between states and non-state actors, used as proxies to foment violence, has worsened this menace. The persistence of State-sponsored terrorism is not just a painful cancer, it is also the leading reason for unsustainable security,” the defence minister said.

Pressing for ‘Sustainable Security’, the theme of ‘ADMM Plus’ meet, Rajnath Singh said security is only effective when it is sustainable and it is sustainable only when the interests of all in the region are taken on board. He stressed upon the need for a more cooperative, equitable and consultative paradigm to deal with broad and complex security challenges to find sustainable solutions.

On the issue of denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, he said India looks forward to the progress made through dialogue in addressing all related issues, including the proliferation trail that links South and East Asia. “As dialogue remains on the table, we hope missile launches and such destabilising activities will cease,” he said.

Rajnath Singh highlighted that India has taken active part in all ‘ADMM Plus’ mechanisms and contributed to their success. He said, India and Myanmar have co-chaired the 3rd cycle of Experts’ Working Group on Military Medicine (EWG-MM), adding that India hosted a standalone Field Exercise on Military Medicine in India in March this year. He also expressed India’s eagerness to co-chair India-Indonesia Expert Working Group on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) in the next cycle.

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