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Our Indo-Pacific role not aimed at China, says Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi said India sees Indo-Pacific as an open, inclusive region. Photo: Reuters

New Delhi: Continuing with the theme of rapprochement with China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said that New Delhi working bilaterally or in partnerships with other countries in the Indo-Pacific region was not part of a strategy of containment or aimed at any country.

“India does not see the Indo-Pacific region as a strategy or as a club of limited members,” Modi said in a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue forum in Singapore—a premier defence and strategic affairs forum supported by the government of Singapore.

“Nor as a grouping that seeks to dominate. And by no means do we consider it as directed against any country. A geographical definition, as such, cannot be. India’s vision for the Indo-Pacific region is, therefore, a positive one,” Modi said.

Modi’s comments come a little more than a month after he held an informal summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan to repair ties badly strained by the military stand-off on Bhutan’s Doklam plateau. It also comes days ahead of the US, India and Japan beginning military exercises in the Western Pacific off the coast of Guam. In a speech to a US think-tank in October, then-US secretary of state Rex Tillerson had contrasted India’s benign rise with China’s more assertive one and sought a larger role for India to stabilize the Indo-Pacific region. This was followed by a meeting in Manila of officials from India, the US, Japan and Australia—known as the quadrilateral, and seen as a group of democracies with allied interests coming together to counterbalance China.

In his speech, Modi spoke of how India’s strategic autonomy had helped it to develop “special” and “privileged” ties with Russia, a strong partnership with the US and a multilayered relationship with China.

“In April, a two-day informal summit with President Xi helped us cement our understanding that strong and stable relations between our two nations are an important factor for global peace and progress,” Modi said. “I firmly believe that Asia and the world will have a better future when India and China work together in trust and confidence, sensitive to each other’s interests,” he said.

India’s vision for the Indo-Pacific was a “free, open, inclusive region, which embraces us all in a common pursuit of progress and prosperity. It includes all nations in this geography as also others beyond who have a stake in it”, Modi said.

India’s vision for the Indo-Pacific also placed the 10 member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, at the centre of the region as the region seeks “to cooperate for an architecture for peace and security”, Modi said.

In his speech, Modi also warned against the dangers of protectionism and stressed the need for “equal access as a right under international law to the use of common spaces on sea and in the air that would require freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law”.

While the comment on protectionism can be seen as a rebuke to the US, the latter can be taken as directed toward China, which has been imposing restrictions on the movement of ships and aircraft in the South China Sea region.

Speaking on connectivity in the region, Modi said if the many projects identified for the region are to succeed, “we must not only build infrastructure, we must also build bridges of trust”.

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