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NEW DELHI: India on Wednesday said it hoped that a code of conduct that is being negotiated in the South China Sea would lead to results that are in sync with international law and will not be against the legitimate rights of countries not party to the discussions.

Addressing the eighth Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Defence Ministers’ Plus meeting via videolink, defence minister Rajnath Singh called for a free, open, and inclusive order in the Indo-Pacific region based on respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

The minister in his speech also called for a recast of outdated international systems which he said could not deal with the “multitude of challenges of today’s dynamic and interdependent world."

The ADMM-Plus is a platform comprising 10-nation ASEAN and its eight dialogue partners -- India, China, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russia and the US.

In his speech, Singh said maritime security challenges were “area of concern" to India along with terrorism and radicalism.

“The Sea lanes of Communication are critical for peace, stability, prosperity and development of the Indo-Pacific region," he said adding that in this context, the “developments in the South China Sea have attracted attention in the region and beyond." The reference was to China claiming almost 90% of the South China Sea as its territorial waters – fending off counterclaims and protests from smaller southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and the Philippines.

Singh said that “India supports freedom of navigation, overflight, and unimpeded commerce in these international waterways," a reference to some unilateral measures put in China over the years that has worried its ASEAN neighbours.

“India hopes that the Code of Conduct negotiations will lead to outcomes that are in keeping with international law, including the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas) and do not prejudice the legitimate rights and interests of nations that are not party to these discussions," the minister said.

Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said that Singh’s message was very clear – that China should not bully ASEAN countries and it should remember that the South China Sea is an international waterway.

“China and the ASEAN are unequal parties. The message is that China should not do anything to consolidate its position in the South China Sea and extract concessions from ASEAN neighbours," he said. “It is a signal that the Code of Conduct (that China and ASEAN leaders arrive at) should not impede the maritime rights of other countries" like India, he said.

According to analysts and trade experts, almost a significant portion of India’s trade bound for countries in the region passes through the South China Sea.

In his speech, the minister also stressed upon the need for “respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, peaceful resolution of disputes through dialogue and adherence to international rules and laws."

“India has strengthened its cooperative engagements in the Indo-Pacific based on converging visions and values for promotion of peace, stability, and prosperity in the region. Premised upon the centrality of ASEAN, India supports utilization of ASEAN-led mechanisms as important platforms for implementation of our shared vision for the Indo-Pacific," he said.

The minister also highlighted the challenges posed by terrorism and radicalisation describing them as the “gravest threats to peace and security."

"Terrorism and radicalisation are the gravest threats to peace and security that the world is facing today," he said. The defence minister said India, as a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), remained committed to combating financing terrorism.

"India shares global concerns about terrorism and believes that, in an era when networking amongst terrorists is reaching alarming proportions, only through collective cooperation can the terror organisations and their networks be fully disrupted, the perpetrators identified and held accountable," he added.

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