Greater power and stronger capabilities should lead to "responsibility and restraint" and ensure economics free of "coercion" and politics devoid of the threat of use of force, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Tuesday, spelling out challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.
In an address at the European Union Ministerial Forum on Indo-Pacific in Paris, Jaishankar cautioned the 27-nation grouping that it is important to deal with the challenges in the region collectively as they could even extend to Europe as "distance is no insulation".
Though the external affairs minister did not name China, it appeared that he was referring to Beijing's increasing assertiveness in the Indo-pacific region that has triggered concerns among leading global players.
Jaishankar said the hosting of the forum at a time Europe was grappling with a serious crisis (in Ukraine) reflected the importance the European Union attaches to its engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.
The external affairs minister said the Indo-Pacific is at the "heart" of the multipolarity and "rebalancing" that characterises contemporary changes, adding engagement of France and the EU in the region would benefit it.
"But it is essential that greater power and stronger capabilities lead to responsibility and restraint. This means, above all, respect for international law; territorial integrity and sovereignty," he said.
"It means economics free of coercion and politics free from the threat or the use of force. It means observing global norms and practices. And refraining from making claims on the global commons," Jaishankar said.
He further said: "Today, we see challenges on that score with the clarity that proximity brings. And believe me, distance is no insulation. The issues we confront in the Indo-Pacific will extend beyond, even to Europe."
Jaishankar said the EU's strategy is consistent with India's vision of a free, open, balanced and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, anchored in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) centrality.
"India's approach is broad-based and emphasises multilateralism, plurilateralism and collective action. These are combined in the Indo Pacific Oceans," he said.
Jaishankar said India welcomed the EU's commitment to contribute to the security of the region.
"This remains a maritime century, and the tides of the Indo-Pacific region will certainly help shape its future. Our collective efforts can keep the oceans peaceful, open and secure, and, at the same time, contribute to conserve its resources and keep it clean," he said.
Jaishankar arrived in Paris on Sunday on a three-day trip after paying a two-day visit to Germany.
The EU Ministerial Forum on Indo-Pacific was organised by France in its capacity as chair of the council of the Union.
The external affairs minister said India appreciates the enormous contribution that Europe can make to shaping world affairs and that its considered voice and mature capabilities are key to the emergence of a multipolar world.
"Through our annual summits, we have greatly enhanced the EU-India strategic partnership. The Indo Pacific will certainly be an important arena for its expression," he said.
"France was among the first countries in the world to recognise this strategic geography. It is, of course, a resident power in the Indo-Pacific. And by extension, so too is the European Union," he added.
Delving into key issues facing Indo-Pacific, Jaishankar said countries with shared values and vision can better ensure a regional culture of working together.
"One in which all nations, irrespective of size, have sovereign options and make their own choices. That is the essence of our shared endeavours," he explained.
Referring to security cooperation, he said France is already among India's foremost partners, adding "with EU too, we now have an enhanced partnership and operational level of access."
The external affairs minister said France and the EU may have strong partnerships, presence and interests in the Indo Pacific as the values they espouse and the practices they follow are no less significant.
"With its economic heft and expertise, the EU can also promote economic development, infrastructure, connectivity, digital transformation, climate change, biodiversity and human-centric concerns like health, besides security. For these reasons, we welcome EU's global gateway," he said.
The evolving situation in the Indo-Pacific region in the wake of China's increasing military muscle-flexing has become a major talking point among leading global powers.
In September last year, the European Union unveiled a new strategy to step up its strategic engagement in the Indo-Pacific and contribute to the region's stability, security and prosperity.
The strategy focused on the EU stepping up implementation of its connectivity partnerships with India and Japan and supporting partners in establishing a regulatory environment and facilitating the mobilisation of the necessary funding to improve connectivity between Europe and the Indo-Pacific.
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