India-ASEAN ties to focus on freedom of navigation: Modi

 Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a retreat meeting with the ASEAN Heads of State at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi on Thursday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a retreat meeting with the ASEAN Heads of State at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi on Thursday.

Security and freedom of navigation will be in the heart of India-ASEAN cooperation in the twenty-first century, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday addressing the leaders of the ASEAN countries at the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit. The leaders also agreed on establishing a joint mechanism to ensure safety and freedom of navigation in the maritime domain.

“Humanitarian and disaster relief efforts, security cooperation and freedom of navigation will be key focus areas for our maritime cooperation,” said Mr. Modi addressing heads of the ASEAN member states. The Prime Minister’s comments on ensuring smooth passage in the oceans came hours after he and the visiting leaders agreed on setting up a special mechanism on maintaining freedom of navigation.

MEA officials said the discussion on this issue took place during the ‘Retreat’ segment of the summit, held at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Details of this segment were not available to the media immediately. Secretary in charge of eastern affairs of the Ministry of External Affairs Preeti Saran said the mechanism that was discussed will be aimed at “Addressing both traditional and non-traditional challenges that all of us face collectively in the maritime domain sector...”

The statement on the maritime mechanism is significant as it is the first time that India has taken up forming of a special maritime mechanism with all the ASEAN heads of states at a single summit.

Maritime security and freedom of navigation featured prominently in the ‘Delhi Declaration,’ a joint statement that was issued after the plenary session of the Commemorative Summit.

The declaration indicated at common concern regarding the South China Sea and reaffirmed the “importance of 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.”

Ms Saran also said that an agreement on maritime transport is under discussion as The Hindu had reported earlier. “A maritime transport MoU is being discussed and hope it will be finalised (in due course),” she said to the media.

The maritime domain has been in the centre of India’s Act East diplomacy which aims to firm up India’s position in the ASEAN and Asia Pacific region.

In recent public statements, the government of PM Narendra Modi has expressed support to ‘rule of law’ in the maritime sphere hinting at the growing military footprint of China in the South China Sea. Welcoming the heads of states at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, President Ram Nath Kovind also urged for upholding rule of law.

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Printable version | Jun 14, 2022 4:48:26 pm |