India committed to enhance maritime cooperation with Asean, says PM Modi

New Delhi: With Asean leaders by his side, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a strong pitch for nations to follow the 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-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (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. Modi also called for respect for international law, especially the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), while stating that the Asean is at the centre of New Delhi’s Act East Policy.

Modi’s comments assume significance given China’s aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea and India’s keenness to play a more influential role in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Prime Minister said that the nature of Asean-India partnership has evolved significantly.

“Our trade has grown 25 times in 25 years. Investments are robust and growing,” he said.

“We will further enhance trade ties and work towards greater interaction among our business communities.”

On his part, 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 (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) being negotiated represents a historic opportunity to establish the world’s largest trading region,” he said.

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

Earlier on Thursday, the Commemorative Summit started with a luncheon banquet hosted by President Ram Nath Kovind in honour of the visiting dignitaries. Following this, Modi held a leaders’ retreat in which the issue of maritime cooperation and security was discussed.

Prior to the 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.