Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday strongly pitched for putting in place a rules-based regional security architecture, reflecting growing convergence among major players like India, the US and Japan to have a coherent approach to deal with China’s aggressive posturing in the Indo-Pacific region.
In an address at the ASEAN-India summit, Modi identified terrorism and extremism as the major challenge facing the region and said time has come for the countries of the region to join hands to collectively deal with it.
Seen as a reference to China’s military manoeuvering at the South China Sea (SCS) which has cast a shadow over the ASEAN summit, Modi said India will continue its support to the ASEAN for achieving a rules-based security architecture in the region.
“India assures the ASEAN of its steady support towards achieving a rules-based regional security architecture that best attests to the region’s interests and its peaceful development,” he said.
Modi’s comments came a day after he and US President Donald Trump discussed shared commitment of the two countries for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
The issue is understood to have figured in Modi’s talks with Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull.
On Sunday, India, Australia, Japan and the US held their first meeting to give shape to the much talked about quadrilateral alliance to keep the Indo-Pacific region “free and open”.
Prime Minister Modi also called for concerted efforts by countries of region to deal with terrorism and extremism.
“We have individually strived very hard to fight terrorism and violent extremism. It is time that we jointly address this challenge by intensifying cooperation in this crucial area,” he said.
Favouring deepening of trade ties, Modi said, “Maritime links established thousands of years ago between India and ASEAN countries have enabled our trade relations in the past and we have to work closely to further strengthen them.”
The 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is considered one of the most influential groupings in the region and India and several other countries, including the US, China, Japan and Australia are its dialogue partners.
The issue of China’s aggressive posturing figured prominently during the ASEAN summit also.
China claims sovereignty over all of SCS, a huge source of hydrocarbons. However, several ASEAN member countries including Vietnam, Philippines and Brunei have counter claims.
India has been supporting freedom of navigation and access to resources in the SCS in accordance with principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The ASEAN has been pushing for a legally binding code of conduct for all stakeholders in the SCS but Beijing has been opposing such a framework asserting that it will resolve the dispute with respective countries under bilateral mechanism.
Prime Minister Modi also talked about shared values and common destiny between India and ASEAN.
“The befitting theme of ‘Shared Values, Common Destiny’ for our 25th anniversary celebrations has been jointly celebrated with a number of commemorative activities. I look forward to a befitting culmination of the commemorative year and receiving you at the India-ASEAN Special Commemorative Summit on 25 January 2018 in New Delhi,” he said.
Modi said 1.25 billion people of India are keen to welcome the ASEAN leaders as the chief guests at India’s 69th Republic Day Celebrations.
Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei are the members of the ASEAN.
The ties between India and ASEAN have been on an upswing.
The ASEAN region along with India comprises combined population of 1.85 billion people, which is one fourth of the global population and their combined GDP has been estimated at over $3.8 trillion.
Investment from ASEAN to India has been over $70 billion in the last 17 years accounting for more than 17% of India’s total FDI.
Prime Minister Modi also participated at a meeting of leaders of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
The RCEP, comprising 10-member ASEAN bloc and six other countries -- India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, is engaged in negotiations for a free trade pact.