Malaysia: India’s defense minister said his country’s growing defense ties with Southeast Asia are not meant to counter China, ahead of a meeting Monday with his Malaysian counterpart.
The defense links are part of India’s “Look East” policy to expand trade and other ties with the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Defense Minister AK Antony told The Associated Press after he arrived in Malaysia on Sunday for a three-day visit.
India, a former ally of the former Soviet Union, had long kept uninvolved with Southeast Asia in its foreign and defense policy. But with India becoming a major economic power, New Delhi has established closer defense ties with the United States, as well as its allies in Asia.
Antony said India’s trading activity has expanded hugely in Southeast Asia over the past few years. Most of the trade including oil deliveries goes by sea, and maritime security is paramount for India and its neighbours, he said.
“We are all interdependent. To us, the sea is really important. The Indian Ocean is very important,” he said. “We feel there is immense potential for ASEAN countries and India to work together in many fields” including defense, he said.
However, he rejected suggestions that India’s “Look East” policy was meant to counter its main rival China’s immense political, economic and strategic influence over the region.
“We are not entering into any kind of military alliance with any country,” said Antony, who was scheduled to meet with Malaysia’s Defense Minister Najib Razak and Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar on Monday. He leaves for India on Tuesday.
“India’s Look East policy is nothing against China,” he said, adding that New Delhi’s rapidly warming ties with Washington also are not “at the expense of any old friends.”
Antony visited Vietnam last month. On the Malaysia trip, he is accompanied by a high-level delegation including Defense Secretary Vijay Singh, the top bureaucrat in the ministry, and the deputy chiefs of staff of the army and navy.
The two countries’ main area of cooperation has been in training Malaysian defense personnel in India. Last month they signed an agreement on training of Royal Malaysian Air Force pilots by the Indian Air Force on the Sukhoi SU-30 MKM aircraft.
The two sides have also begun holding annual defense cooperation talks between their top defense bureaucrats.
“We are developing relations with almost all ASEAN countries and Malaysia is a cornerstone of those relations,” Antony said.