India, ASEAN agree to maintain Freedom of Navigation , lawful use of the seas

In what is being seen as a clear but veiled joint message to China, India and the 10 Asean countries said on Thursday that they will ensure an “open, transparent, inclusive and rules-based regional architecture” and enhance maritime cooperation, a move which comes in the wake of growing concerns in the region over Beijing’s rising military posturing in the South China Sea.

In the joint Delhi Declaration by India and Asean issued here, the two sides decided on “maintaining and promoting peace, stability, maritime safety and security, freedom of navigation and overflight in the region, and other lawful uses of the seas and unimpeded lawful maritime commerce and to promote peaceful resolutions of disputes, in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)”. India and Asean also pressed for “early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea”.

The two sides also agreed to extend the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway Project to Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam.

The concerns over South China Sea were a part of the “political and security cooperation” the “Delhi Declaration of the Asean — India Commemorative Summit — to mark the 25th Anniversary of Asean-India Dialogue Relations” in New Delhi.

The MEA said the consensus on setting up of a mechanism for deeper was reached during a retreat session hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the 10 Asean leaders. Both the sides agreed to “further strengthen and deepen the Asean-India Strategic Partnership for mutual benefit, across the whole spectrum of political-security, economic, socio-cultural and development cooperation”.

Mr Modi and the 10 Asean leaders also agreed to fight the menace of terrorism. Connectivity and trade issues were also discussed at the Summit.

China has maritime disputes in the South China Sea with several of the Asean nations, including Vietnam and the Philippines. Beijing has also refused to accept the verdict of international tribunals on these disputes. The adopted Declaration will, therefore, comes as a jolt to Beijing.

In a veiled reference to China, PM Modi, in his address at the plenary session of the Summit, said that “India shares the Asean vision for rule-based societies and values of peace”, adding that “freedom of navigation will be a key focus of India-Asean in the maritime domain”.

Earlier in the day, Mr Modi held deliberations with the 10 Asean leaders on the theme “Maritime Security and Cooperation” at the main retreat session at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Apart from this issue, trade and connectivity were among the issues discussed.

“Delighted to welcome you all to the Asean-India commemorative summit,” said Mr Modi.

Phrases such as “freedom of navigation” and “rule-based” order have been used by several Countries, including India and the United States, as a veiled prescription for what the situation in the South China Sea should be, given China’s maritime disputes with some of the Asean countries and Beijing’s use of threats of military force in the region. India, the US, Japan and Australia who are expected to be part of the proposed “quadrilateral” in the Asia-Pacific region have often emphasised the importance of “freedom of navigation” in international waters, which is again seen as a veiled reference to China treating the South China Sea as its fiefdom.

The Delhi Declaration stated that India and the Asean have agreed to “Reaffirm our commitment to work closely together on common regional and international security issues of mutual concern and ensure an open, transparent, inclusive and rules-based regional architecture through existing Asean-led frameworks and mechanisms…”

On fighting terrorism, the two sides agreed to “deepen cooperation in combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, violent extremism and radicalization through information sharing, law enforcement cooperation and capacity building”. On trade issues, Mr Modi said, “Our trade has grown 25 times in 25 years. Investments are robust and growing. We will further enhance trade ties and work towards greater interaction among our business communities.”

He added, “India offers to undertake a pilot project on rural connectivity which will create digital village in Cambodia, Laos PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam. Success of this project could be replicated in other Asean countries.”

On economic cooperation, India and Asean agreed to “further strengthen Asean-India economic relations, including through the full utilisation and effective implementation of the Asean-India Free Trade Area, and intensify efforts in 2018 toward the swift conclusion of a modern, comprehensive, high quality, and mutually beneficial Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)”.

On connectivity, the two sides agreed to “encourage the early completion of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway Project and extend this Trilateral Highway to Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam.” They also agreed to reaffirm the “commitment to enhance physical and digital connectivity in line with the MPAC 2025 and the AIM 2020 by, among others, availing of the $1 billion line of credit announced by India to promote physical infrastructure and digital connectivity.”

By: Asian Age

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Categories: Geopolitics

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