NEW DELHI: A fair, transparent and an equal rules-based order is needed in the Indo-Pacific region, said Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in his inaugural address at the 10th Delhi Dialogue in the Indian capital on Thursday (Jul 19).
And leveraging the dialogue's theme of "Strengthening Maritime Security between India and ASEAN", Dr Balakrishnan stressed it is crucial Singapore opposes any attempts that threaten the freedom of navigation in the high seas.
"Obviously the most salient piece of international law for this is UNCLOS - the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea," he said.
"UNCLOS is critical for us to safeguard the use of the sea for free navigation and for unimpeded legal commerce."
He added: "And this is why Singapore will also resolutely oppose any attempt, by anyone, to threaten or to constrain this fundamental right of freedom of navigation and overflight in our region and our surrounding waters. These rights are enshrined by UNCLOS."
On the Regional Economic Cooperation Partnership, Dr Balakrishnan said finalisation of the trade pact is important, given the rising trend of global protectionism.
He urged ASEAN nations and India to move quickly to seal the trade pact.
Dr Balakrishnan said that being inter-dependent will only benefit the region's economies and usher in a golden age for the Indo-Pacific.
"We need to remove barriers to trade in goods, services and ideas. And that is why, in fact, at this time when there is a pushback against trade liberalisation in some of the more advanced parts of the world, it is all the more important for India and ASEAN to double down on the cause of free trade," he said.
"Specifically, we need to work towards the conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and hopefully to do so by the end of this year."
He added: “Given the headwinds that we currently face in the global trade environment, we are all better off together as one.
"So we should move forward together and we must demonstrate that an inclusive and well-connected region remains the best approach for us to capitalise on our complementarities within India and ASEAN, in order to achieve growth, in order to achieve hope for our peoples."
India is playing host to the 10th edition of the Delhi Dialogue, an annual event to discuss politico-security, economic and socio-cultural engagement between India and ASEAN.
At the event, India's external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj urged member states to boost cooperation in counter-terrorism, counter-proliferation, and maritime domain awareness, to help position the nations for “Asia’s Century”.
She also said that India’s interests in the Indo-Pacific region were vast, and that the region needs to remain free and open.
She added that India supports security and growth for all in the region, regardless of size and strength.
“We must follow a common, rules-based order that takes into account the equality of all, irrespective of size and strength. It should allow use of common spaces on sea and in the air,” said Ms Swaraj.
She added, “Our vision of the Indo-Pacific, not only involves physical inter-connectivity, but also entails building bridges of trust, based on mutual respect, giving due regard for sovereignty and territorial integrity, consultation, transparency, viability and sustainability.”
The term Indo-Pacific has gained new prominence recently with its repeated use by US President Donald Trump and other senior figures in his administration.
Unlike the term Asia-Pacific, Indo-Pacific conveys a wider view of the region to include the Indian subcontinent.