Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday said that India supports freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. In recent years, China has ramped up its military presence in the resource-rich disputed waters, including building artificial islands and air bases.
Speaking at the ASEAN Plus Defence Ministers’ Meet, Singh also called for a free, open and inclusive order in the Indo-Pacific region.
Both Chinese Defence Minister Gen Wei Fenghe and United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin were part of the virtual meeting, according to The Print.
The South China Sea is one of many flash points between China and the US. Washington has rejected what it calls unlawful territorial claims by Beijing in the resource-rich waters. It has also sent Navy warships on routine patrols there to challenge Chinese assertion of sovereignty.
“New challenges to international peace and security are emerging,” Singh said at the meeting. “The multitude of challenges of today’s dynamic and interdependent world cannot be addressed with outdated systems that were designed to deal with trials of the past.”
He added that India was concerned about maritime security challenges. “The sea lanes of communication are critical for peace, stability, prosperity and development of the Indo-Pacific region,” the minister said. “In this regard, developments in the South China Sea have attracted attention in the region and beyond. India supports freedom of navigation, over flight, and unimpeded commerce in these international waterways.”
Singh also said that terrorism and radicalisation are the “gravest threats” to peace and security in the world. A collective approach, the defence minister said, was needed to tackle the challenges.
He called for strong action against those encouraging, supporting and financing terrorism – seen as a veiled reference to Pakistan. The defence minister said India, as a member of the Financial Action Task Force, was committed to combating financing of terrorism.
The global anti-terrorism watchdog will decide at its next plenary session from June 21 to 25 on whether to retain Pakistan on the “grey list” for its failure to fully comply with a 27-point action plan to combat terrorism, The Hindu reported. This will affect Islamabad’s global credit rating and access to international loans.