India's Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has called for a concerted effort by Southeast Asian countries to fight emerging threats to regional peace and security, such as "bio-terrorism" and pandemics.
Sharing a platform with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe amid a tense border stand-off, Rajnath Singh reminded the participants about the rule-based order, unilateral actions that complicate the situation, and the current regional environment with visible strains.
“The support of the military establishments of our respective countries to their civilian law enforcement counterparts is important”, Rajnath Singh said, urging leaders to combat the threat of bio-terrorism.
The Indian defence minister added that bio-terrorism is a real threat nowadays, and the armed forces' medical services should be at the forefront of combating the menace.
He further pointed out the collective achievement in the past decade that has been remarkable in advancing multilateral cooperation through strategic dialogue and practical security cooperation.
“The ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific underscores this impetus to cultivate strategic trust and continuously promote ASEAN centrality in the regional architecture”, Singh emphasised. "The forum has grown in the past decade to become the fulcrum of peace, stability and rules-based order in the region".
Amid the current tensions in the region, Singh appreciated the central role of ASEAN-led forums, including ADMM Plus in promoting dialogue and engagement towards a pluralistic, cooperative security order in Asia. The ADMM-PLUS is a platform for ASEAN and its eight dialogue partners - Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Russia, and the United States (collectively referred to as plus countries) - to strengthen security and defence cooperation for peace, stability, and development in the region.
"Exercising self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoiding actions that may further complicate the situation, will go a long way in bringing sustained peace to the region", Singh said.
The comments from the Indian defence minister came against the backdrop of the over nine-month-long border row between India and China in eastern Ladakh. Over the last few years, ties between India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been on an upswing, with focus on ramping up cooperation in the areas of trade and investment, as well as security and defence.