In her first foreign trip as defence minister, Nirmala Sitharaman
fired shots across the bows of both China and Pakistan on Tuesday, without naming the two countries.
Addressing the Asean Defence Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) in Manila, Sitharaman called for safeguarding freedom of navigation, over flight and commerce in regional waters – a key concern of East Asian states that must live with an increasingly powerful and assertive China.
Taking aim at China’s growing penchant for unilateralism, Sitharaman stated: “Nations should resolve maritime disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law. We support a rules based order for oceans and sea that is critical for the continued growth and development of the Indo-Pacific region.”
Deploring the recent nuclear and missile tests conducted by North Korea
– or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – India pointed the finger at China and Pakistan for their widely suspected proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies to that country.
“It is important that DPRKs’ proliferation linkages are investigated and those who have supported its nuclear and missile programme are held accountable”, said Sitharaman.
On terrorism, Sitharaman stated: “The transnational activism of terrorist groups, the spectre of returning foreign fighters and the conduct of irresponsible states that provide safe havens, funding and even encouragement to terrorist groups all need to be addressed together and comprehensively. Terrorism anywhere is a threat everywhere.”
Maintaining pressure on Pakistan, Sitharaman cited last month’s BRICS
Summit Declaration calling for action against several Pakistan-based terrorist groups, including the Laskhar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.
ADMM-Plus, which was inaugurated in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2010, is an annual meeting that brings together the defence ministers of ten Asean countries, with those of eight “dialogue partners”. These include India, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, and the United States.
Placing controversial military issues on the side-lines, the ADMM-Plus focuses on seven areas of cooperation: namely maritime security, counter-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, peacekeeping operations, military medicine, humanitarian mine action and cyber security.
India, like the other dialogue partners, talks up Asean as the framework for the Asia-Pacific security architecture. However, within Asean, there is little unified will for confronting Beijing. While Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore regard China as the premier regional security threat, others like Malaysia, Brunei and Philippines believe their interests lie in accommodating China.