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Free and open Indo-Pacific important aspect of India's maritime security: Defence Minister


Defence Minister Rajnath Singh at the 39th Commanders' Conference of Indian Coast Guard (ICG) in New Delhi on Monday, May 30, 2022. (Photo: PTI)

NEW DELHI (PTI): Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday said a free and open Indo-Pacific is an important aspect of India's maritime security while noting that geopolitical tensions and clash of strategic interests have resulted in new security challenges in the region.

Singh said India has a clear interest in creating a rule-based, peaceful and stable environment in the region, saying such an atmosphere is essential for both regional and global prosperity.

The Defence Minister was speaking after inaugurating a three-day conference of the top commanders of the Indian Coast Guard (ICG).

Singh also said that India has not witnessed any terrorist activities originating from the sea route since the 2008 Mumbai attacks in view of the continuous enhancement of coastal security.

The Defence Minister said the incident showed that India's orientation was focused on the security of land borders and not much attention was paid to coastal security for a long time.

He lauded the ICG for continuously enhancing its capability in the last few years in line with the Government's vision and playing a key role in bolstering coastal security.

In his address, the Defence Minister shared his views on the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

"The growing regional and global trade in this region has brought forth new challenges. Geopolitical tensions and clash of strategic interests have led to traditional security challenges," he said.

Singh also listed terrorism, drug trafficking and piracy as the non-traditional challenges facing the Indo-Pacific.

"The entire region is being affected by these challenges. Being a responsible maritime power, we have a clear interest to create a rule-based, peaceful and stable environment," he said.

"Such a rule-based environment is essential for both regional and global prosperity. In such a situation, the ICG has a big role to play," he said.

The Defence Minister said India's geographical location is crucial from a strategic and economic point of view.

"Our long coastline with deep-water ports, a prosperous Exclusive Economic Zone and islands at both ends present a unique position. The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) accounts for more than two-thirds of the world's oil shipments," he said.

"One-third of bulk cargo and more than half of container traffic pass through it. The safety of these sea routes is not only directly connected to our economic interests, but it also establishes India as a Net Security Provider in IOR," he added.

Singh emphasised that the role of the ICG is not only limited to coastal areas, describing it as the protector of India's national interests and sovereign rights in the territorial seas and Exclusive Economic Zone.

"There have been no reports of any breach in coastal security in the last 14 years due to the ICG's dynamic strategy and its cooperation with the Indian Navy and local administration," he said.

Singh added that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) is based on the spirit of friendship, openness, dialogue, and co-existence with the neighbours.

Pointing out that India has emerged as a strong and reliable investment destination due to the Government's efforts, Singh said, the country's true potential can only come to the fore if a safe, secure and rule-based maritime environment is ensured.

He exhorted the ICG to strive toward maintaining order along India's vast coastline and Exclusive Economic Zone to achieve this objective.

Singh also pointed out that as the pressure on mainland resources is increasing, countries around the world are turning to the sea for sustenance.

Deep-sea exploration has further increased the competition for marine resources, he said, while underlining the increasing role of marine exploration, resource exploitation and conservation.

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