India’s unwavering commitment to freedom of navigation, over flight, and unimpeded lawful commerce in international waters, in strict adherence to global norms, was emphatically asserted by the Defence Minister while addressing a gathering of the 10-nation ASEAN and its dialogue partners in Jakarta. This resolute stance comes amidst China’s escalating military assertiveness in the South China Sea. In today’s world, collaboration and partnerships are the way forward for fostering peace, prosperity, and security in the region. However, the assertive Chinese strategy, marked by incremental advancements, has instilled profound apprehension among its neighbouring nations. China finds itself embroiled in disputes with a staggering 13 countries at this critical juncture. Certain regions, such as Tibet, have previously succumbed to China’s forcible occupation, and this ominous trend is contentiously continuing. On the other hand, India steadfastly reiterates its unwavering commitment to upholding a multilateral rules-based international order, underscoring the paramount importance of safeguarding sovereignty and territorial integrity in the revitalization of the South China Sea and other oceans as a robust and cohesive community. Consistently exposing China’s escalating assertiveness in this strategically significant region, India underscores the imperative of maintaining the oceans as an untrammelled, inclusive, and open expanse, aligning seamlessly with the principles enshrined in the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), particularly pertinent in the face of contemporary challenges.
China’s expansionist policies, a subject of global scrutiny, draw censure for their destabilising impact on regional equilibrium. Undertaking colossal financial endeavours under the guise of infrastructure development, China ensnares neighbouring nations in a labyrinth of debt, with projects often proving commercially untenable, exacerbating the economic vulnerabilities of nations such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Furthermore, China’s incremental territorial encroachments in the seas fuel needless tensions, coercing smaller nations to divert substantial resources towards fortifying their territories, thereby precipitating economic crises. China’s aggressive posture emerges as a disruptive force, while India assumes the role of a benevolent elder sibling, proactively aiding numerous smaller nations in the construction of critical infrastructure. This spans diverse sectors, encompassing hydroelectric facilities, mining operations, port development, airport construction, and healthcare facilities. India’s consistent readiness to extend support during crises or natural disasters underscores its commitment to regional stability.
India has been consistently working to unite the world on the economic front. Working in this direction, a visionary initiative has been unveiled, propounding the establishment of a corridor that seeks to interlink the realms of Alexander’s Greece and Porus’s India in the contemporary 21st century. This monumental undertaking, known as the India-Middle East-Europe-Economic Corridor (IMEC), was officially proclaimed during the G20 summit in New Delhi. The pivotal moment materialised with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the European Union and a consortium of seven nations, comprising India, the United States, Saudi Arabia, UAE, France, Germany and Italy. This is India’s magnanimous soft power.
The scrupulous adherence to international treaties designed to safeguard the world’s oceans is imperative. Given the densely populated nature of Asia, fostering cooperation among nations in the region can catalyse significant advancements in trade, thereby enhancing the collective economies. India consistently plays the role of a guide and mentor to its neighbouring nations, refraining from initiating aggression and steadfastly respecting land and maritime borders. The grave consequences of conflicts, including the profound toll on human lives and livelihoods and the adverse implications for food and energy security, are visible the world over. The Defence Minister’s address encapsulated India’s dedication to fostering a collaborative and secure regional environment, echoing the sentiments of a nation deeply committed to principles of peace and international cooperation. Collectively, the nations have the potential to wield substantial influence over global trade. Regrettably, the pervasive lack of trust and unity among these nations serves as a formidable impediment to realising this potential, thereby obstructing regional progress and stymieing the realisation of shared objectives.