Indo-Pacific must be free, open and and inclusive region: Sushma Swaraj
New Delhi, Jul 19: Asserting that the Indo-Pacific must be a “free, open and inclusive” region, India today said there was an imperative need for eschewing protectionism and avoiding return to great power rivalries.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, delivering the keynote address at the 'Delhi Dialogue' in the presence of 10 delegation heads of ASEAN countries, said a common, rules-based order must be followed in the region that takes into account the equality of all, irrespective of size and strength. Her remarks come amid growing Chinese assertiveness in the region. “Our vision of the Indo-Pacific not only involves physical inter connectivity but also entails building bridges of trust, based on mutual respect, giving due regard for sovereignty and territorial integrity, consultation, transparency, viability and sustainability,” Swaraj said.
She said there was imperative need for eschewing protectionism and avoiding a return to great power rivalries. “The Indo-Pacific must be a free, open and an inclusive region. We must follow a common, rules-based order, that takes into account the equality of all, irrespective of size and strength. It should allow use of common spaces on sea and in the air,” Swaraj said at the 10th edition of the dialogue whose theme was 'Strengthening ASEAN-India Maritime Cooperation'.
India has been working with ASEAN towards evolving a regional security architecture which is focused on ASEAN's centrality, Swaraj said. She asserted that the peaceful settlement of disputes in keeping with international law and finding collaborative solutions to emerging and non-traditional challenges is important. Her remarks assume significance as ASEAN countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei have disputes with China over the South China Sea.
India is ready to strengthen cooperation in areas of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief ( HADR), search and rescue operations, anti piracy, counter terrorism, counter proliferation and collaborate on maritime domain awareness, Swaraj said.
“We will also work towards ecologically sustainable development of ocean resources in a collaborative framework. “We believe that ASEAN is central to it and indeed lies at the heart of it,” the minister said. Asserting that India-ASEAN engagement was deep-rooted, Swaraj said India places ASEAN at the centre of its dream of an Asian century. “As Asia regains its global position for the twenty first century to be called 'Asia's Century', it goes without saying that India and ASEAN will play a vital role in ensuring this. We look forward to working with the ASEAN member states in order to turn this vision into a reality,” Swaraj said.
She said India recognises that the single most important ingredient that can make a qualitative shift in its economic engagement with ASEAN is a major boost towards infrastructure and connectivity. India was making substantial progress on all fronts, both bilaterally and regionally, Swaraj said. “We hope to transform these corridors of connectivity into corridors of economic cooperation,” she said.
In connectivity, India has made considerable progress in implementing the India–Myanmar–Thailand Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project, she noted. "Our recent agreement with Indonesia to develop port infrastructure in Sabang is yet another step in this direction," she said.
“We are working on specific proposals to set up a regional high-capacity fibre-optic network, supplemented by national rural broadband networks and digital villages in remote areas. We have offered USD 1 billion Line of Credit, to help finance these and other connectivity projects with ASEAN,” Swaraj said.
“We are also engaged in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations involving ASEAN and its six FTA partners. We believe that the RCEP presents a decisive opportunity to further engage our eastern neighbours economically,” she said. India hopes that the negotiations can be finalised as soon as possible.
Delegation heads of ASEAN countries, including Foreign Minister of Singapore Vivian Balakrishnan, Deputy Foreign Minister of Vietnam Nguyen Quoc Dzung, and Hoang Ahn Tuan, Deputy Secretary General for Political Affairs, ASEAN Secretariat, also addressed the gathering. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) comprises Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Laos and Brunei.