Rajnath Singh’s message at Asean meet aims at China, advocates self-restraint
In a thinly veiled reference to China, defence minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday called on members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and its dialogue partners to exercise self-restraint and avoid actions that complicate the situation.
Singh’s remarks, made during a virtual gathering of the Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM Plus) that was joined by his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe, came against the backdrop of the India-China standoff in Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
“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 in his address.
Singh also took a swipe at Pakistan, without naming the country, for allowing its soil to be used for terrorism directed against India.
Describing terrorism as a major scourge for the region and the world, he said “structures that support and sustain terrorism continue to exist, including in India’s neighbourhood” and called for strengthening international mechanisms to jointly fight terror.
He emphasised India’s call for an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific based on respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, peaceful resolutions of disputes through dialogue and adherence to international laws. He reiterated India’s support to freedom of navigation and over-flight for all in international waters in line with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
India has accused China of unilaterally attempting to change the status quo along the LAC since April. Following a clash in June that killed 20 Indian soldiers and caused unspecified Chinese casualties, both countries have mobilised tens of thousands of troops that have dug in along the LAC for the harsh winter.
Singh met Wei on the margins of a meeting of defence ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Moscow in September and there have also been meetings and contacts between external affairs minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, senior military commanders and diplomats, but the two sides haven’t been able to agree on disengagement on the LAC.
ADMM Plus, which includes the 10 members of Asean and its eight dialogue partners Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the US, was formed in 2010 to strengthen security and defence cooperation for peace and development in the region. This annual meeting was chaired this year by Vietnam.
Singh appreciated the central role of Asean-led forums, including ADMM Plus, in promoting dialogue for a pluralistic and cooperative security order in Asia amid the “current regional environment with visible strains”.
Pointing to the 10th anniversary of ADMM Plus, Singh said field training and table-top exercises help members of the grouping understand each other and maintain peace. “Our ability to collectively respond to challenges in the region based on the fundamentals of freedom, inclusivity and openness will define our future,” he said.
“Threats to the rules-based order, maritime security, cyber-related crimes and terrorism...remain the challenges that we need to address as a forum,” he added.
ADMM Plus has become a “fulcrum of peace, stability and rules-based order in this region” and India’s concepts of “vasudhaive kutumbakam” or “the whole world is one family” and “sarve bhavantu sukhinah” or “all be at peace” emphasise inclusivity, equality and openness, Singh said.
The Asean outlook on the Indo-Pacific underscores the “impetus to cultivate strategic trust and continuously promote Asean centrality in the regional architecture”, and also has much in common with India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), he added.
Members of ADMM Plus are major stakeholders in the regional security dynamic and exercises in maritime security, humanitarian aid and disaster relief, counter-terrorism and peacekeeping operations have helped build confidence, he said.
“Cyber-security and military medicine are at the forefront of our challenges today. Another notable step has been the adoption of the concept paper on expanding Asean Direct Communication Infrastructure to the Plus countries,” Singh said.
ADMM Plus needs to continue its efforts to address threats such as bioterrorism, transnational trafficking and pandemic diseases and members of the grouping should build capacity to address shared security challenges that are increasingly trans-boundary in nature, he said.