Indo-Pacific unity in spotlight at army chiefs meet as China boosts influence
Gen Manoj Pande listed territorial disputes over landmasses and militarisation of artificial islands in contested waters as the region’s key security concerns
NEW DELHI: Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday said security considerations have elevated the strategic significance of the Indo-Pacific and the vast stretch confronts a web of challenges that no country can tackle alone, with army chief General Manoj Pande describing it as a theatre of complexities with manifestations of inter-state competitions and a top US general calling for deepening partnerships in the region to jointly promote peace and stability.
The comments on the strategic landscape came at the Indo-Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference (IPACC), being attended by military leaders from 30 countries, and drew attention to China’s rising influence in a region where it is setting up military bases, bullying countries to advance its unlawful maritime claims and ensnaring vulnerable states in unsustainable debts to force strategic concessions.
To be sure, neither Singh nor the two generals named China.
Pande said India’s outlook for the Indo-Pacific emphasised respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, peaceful resolution of disputes, avoidance of force and adherence to international law.
“While efforts by countries are converging towards effecting a free and stable Indo-Pacific, yet we are witnessing manifestations of inter-state contestations and competitions.”
The army chief listed territorial disputes over landmasses and the militarisation of artificial islands in contested waters as key security concerns in the region.
“The region faces a complex web of security challenges, including boundary disputes. The need to comprehensively deal with these challenges has led to the full involvement of the states in the region, with all their organisations, including their armies,” Singh said in his inaugural speech at the 13th IPACC, hosted by India and the US.
Chief of defence staff General Anil Chauhan, Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari, Indian Navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar and 20 army chiefs from across the Indo-Pacific region were present.
India’s efforts to build robust military partnerships with friendly countries underscore its commitment to safeguard national interests and address global challenges, Singh said. “The Indo-Pacific Region has emerged as a pivotal geopolitical and strategic concept in recent years, transforming from a primarily maritime concept into a comprehensive strategic framework.”
Singh reiterated that India stands for a “free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific region.”
“States must recognise that there are global issues and challenges involving multiple stakeholders that no one country can address in isolation. They need to engage with the broader international community and work collaboratively through diplomacy, international organisations, and treaties to tackle common concerns,” he said.
In a joint press briefing with US army chief of staff General Randy George, Pande said the Indo-Pacific construct has come to occupy central space in the contemporary geostrategic canvass in recent years. “Its significance reflects the evolving global dynamics in the political, security, economic and environmental domains. The region is a theatre of complexities and challenges. Periodic ideation and discussions among partners are necessary, with efforts focussed on the shared responsibility for achieving and sustaining peace and stability,” Pande said.
Responding to a question on China, the army chief said the IPACC construct was not a military alliance directed against any country or group of countries, with its goal being bringing military leaders together to enhance collaboration and understanding in the Indo-Pacific, sharing best practices, planning effective humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and charting a roadmap for the future. “The aim is to build trust and strengthen friendships.”
General George said IPACC was looking at building a security architecture that would bind the region together and lead to unity and collective commitment. “Unity and commitment are the best deterrents,” he said, adding that the partnership between the US and Indian armies was vital for stability in the region.
“In a challenging global security environment, having great allies and partners is more important than ever before.”