East Asia Summit: PM Modi stresses on safe, secure navigation in Indo-Pacific

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PM Modi in Manila (@MEAIndia)
PM Modi in Manila (@MEAIndia)

Manila : Amidst the buzz over the quadrilateral grouping with the US, Japan and Australia as a counter to China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday came out strongly in support of a safe, secure and free navigation in the Indo-Pacific region and for adherence to rule of law and international arbitration.

On the sidelines of the India-Asean and East Asia Summits, he also spoke of regional peace and security to counter the scourge of terrorism, including cross-border terror. 

Modi pitched for a joint India-Asean effort to fight terrorism and violent extremism. 

The Indian stand on freedom of navigation was made clear during a series of meetings Modi had with leaders of Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, on the sidelines of the summit meetings here.

"Our PM also stressed the importance of safe, secure and free navigation in the Indo-Pacific region and called for adherence to rule of law and international arbitration and including respect for UN Convention on Law of the Sea," Preeti Saran, Secretary (East) in the External Affairs Ministry, told reporters while briefing on the Prime Minister's meetings with leaders.

Modi's forthright expression of views on free navigation in the Indo-Pacific region assumes significance in the context of concerns a number of countries have over China's belligerence and attempts to dominate the South China Sea. 

India, the US and Japan want Australia to be part of the quadrilateral initiative to keep China under check. Officials of these countries met here for the first time on Sunday though a formal summit has not taken place. 

Among the leaders Modi met on Tuesday were his counterparts Shinzo Abe of Japan and Malcolm Turnbull of Australia. 

"Delighted to have met you," Modi tweeted after meeting Turnbull. "Our talks today add new vigour to the friendship between India and Australia."

Turnbull, who visited India in April, said the "productive meeting" with Modi "focussed on increased economic cooperation, security and counter-terrorism".

In the meeting, Modi and Turnbull exchanged views on the situation in the region. Saran said they talked about the importance of cooperation in countering terrorism and terror financing. 

Modi thanked Australia for signing India's initiative, the International Solar Alliance. They discussed the ongoing talks on CECA where there is need for a balanced outcome to include trade in goods and investments. 

Modi later met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and said it was an "excellent meeting".

"We reviewed the ground covered on various aspects of India-Japan ties and discussed ways to deepen cooperation between our economies and people," he tweeted.

Saran said talks with Abe revolved around economic cooperation that included major projects like the dedicated freight corridor and the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train, a project for which ground was broken by the two leaders at a ceremony in September. 

They also discussed connectivity initiatives including the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor. 

Modi then met Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

According to External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar Kumar, the two leaders "shared common goal to deepen bilateral relations between the two countries".

India has offered several Lines of Credit to Vietnam over the years on concessional terms. The two countries cooperate closely in the defence sector. 

During his meeting with the host President Rodrigo Duterte, Modi conveyed his support to the Philippines in its fight against terrorism. He also welcomed the East Asia Summit adopting two very important statements on countering ideological narrative and propaganda as well as financing of terrorism. 

"And these are two separate documents adopted by all EAS leaders not just to convey importance the subject has for India. It is important for regional peace and security to counter the scourge of terrorism including cross-border terrorism," Saran said. She said the recent developments in the Korean peninsula also figured in the discussions. 

"Our PM also shared the same concerns that other leaders had about North Korea's pursuit of its missile and nuclear weapons… called for complete verification and irreversible de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula."

Modi said it was also important that North Korea's proliferation links must be investigated to hold to account those who had supported these unlawful programmes. 

Modi later met the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah.

"Both leaders had fruitful discussions on expanding bilateral partnership, specially in trade and investment, renewable energy, culture and people to people contacts," spokesperson Kumar said.

Modi also met newly elected New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Kumar said it was a "productive meeting" and both leaders "discussed steps to expand bilateral relations across sectors". 

On Monday, Modi held bilateral meetings with US President Donald Trump and Duterte.