India, Asean to enhance maritime cooperation, combat terrorism

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New Delhi : In line with New Delhi's Act East Policy that puts southeast Asia at its centre, India and the Asean regional bloc on Thursday agreed to enhance maritime cooperation while reiterating their commitment to fight the global scourge of terrorism together.

With the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) leaders by his side, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a strong pitch for nations to follow international law of the seas in the Indo-Pacific region - in a veiled attack on China which has been accused by most of its neighbours of violating the rule of law in the South China Sea.

"India shares the Asean vision for rule-based societies and values of peace," Modi said in his opening remarks at the plenary session here of the Commemorative Summit to mark 25 years of the India-Asean Dialogue Partnership.

He said India is committed to enhancing cooperation in the maritime domain with the Asean regional bloc.

"We are committed to work with Asean nations to enhance collaboration in the maritime domain," he said

The Asean comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, and heads of state or government of all these countries are participating in the Commemorative Summit, themed "Shared Destiny, Common Values". The heads of government and state from these 10 countries are here as guests of honour at the Republic Day celebrations on Friday.

A joint statement issued following the Summit said both sides 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 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), and the relevant standards and recommended practices by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO)".

"In this regard, we support the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and look forward to an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC)," it stated.

Both sides also agreed to "strengthen maritime cooperation through existing relevant mechanisms including the Expanded Asean Maritime Forum (EAMF) to address common challenges on maritime issues".

India and Asean also agreed to "deepen cooperation in combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, violent extremism and radicalisation through information sharing, law enforcement cooperation and capacity building under the existing ASEAN-led mechanisms".

In his address, Modi said the nature of Asean-India partnership has evolved significantly.

"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."

According to the joint statement, both sides 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)".

The RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between the 10 Asean member states and the six countries with which Asean has FTAs -- Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore, which has assumed the Asean chair this year, said that India and the regional bloc have to increase trade and economic cooperation.

"The RCEP being negotiated represents a historic opportunity to establish the world's largest trading region," he said.

Lee also stressed on boosting land, air and maritime connectivity between India and Southeast Asia.

According to the joint statement, both India and Asean "encouraged the early completion of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway project" and extend this Trilateral Highway to Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnama.

Earlier in the day, the Commemorative Summit started with a luncheon banquet hosted by President Ram Nath Kovind in the honour of visiting dignitaries.

Following this, Modi held a leaders' retreat in which the issue of maritime cooperation and security was discussed.

Prior to the banquet, since Wednesday, the Prime Minister also held bilateral meetings with Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Singapore Prime Minister Lee, and Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah.