NEW DELHI: Taking a swipe at China's strong-arm tactics with countries in its neighbourhood, Indian Army Chief Gen. Manoj Pande on Tuesday said that India's outlook for the Indo-Pacific emphasises respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states in the region, peaceful resolution of disputes and avoidance of the use of force.
“The challenges we face are significant, but so is our collective wisdom and strength. It is through open dialogue and exchange of ideas that we will find innovative solutions to the challenges,” Gen. Pande said, at the inaugural session of the India-hosted 13th Indo-Pacific Armies Chiefs' Conference (IPACC) here on Tuesday.
The Army chief's comments came a day after China erected a floating barricade in the South China Sea, where it disputes the rights of the Philippines and growing tension with India over the border row.
He said India's commitment towards “positively engaging” all stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific has been “unwavering and enduring” over the years.
“India's strategic location, astride the vital sea lanes of communication, in the Indo-Pacific, propels us as a key player in the region's discourse,” he said.
“Our outlook emphasises respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations in the region, equality of all, peaceful resolution of disputes, avoidance of the use of force, and adherence to international laws, rules, and regulations,” he said.
Highlighting the geo-political significance and geo-economic weight of the Indo-Pacific nations, Gen Pande said it is evident from the fact that the region accounts for 65 per cent of the world's population, 63 per cent of the global GDP, and 50 per cent of the world's maritime trade.
“Hence, the impact of geographic and economic indispensability of the region to the world naturally accords it the role of the pivotal theatre in the contemporary geostrategic canvas,” he said.
“While efforts by countries are converging towards effecting a free and stable Indo-Pacific, yet we are witnessing manifestations of inter-state contestations and competitions,” Gen Pande observed.
“The challenges we face transcend across borders, and our response to them must factor this. The Indo-Pacific region is not merely a collection of nations -- it is a web of interdependencies,” he said.
“We are bound by geography, and our destinies are intertwined. The security and prosperity of one nation are intrinsically linked to the security and prosperity of its neighbours, and much beyond. Therefore, each one of us has an important and pivotal role to play,” he said.
Gen Pande pitched for greater cooperation in the spheres of security, connectivity, and economy among the littoral states in the Indo-Pacific region.
“From a definitional perspective, the construct of 'Indo-Pacific' largely hints at the primacy of navies, in the security stakeholdership of the region,” he noted.
“While there is no denying this, the role of other components of armed forces remains profoundly relevant. Apart from challenges exclusively in the maritime domain, a wide range of security and humanitarian concerns exist on land, too,” he said.
“These range from territorial disputes over land masses, or in some cases even over artificially expanded islands to acquire real estate and establish military bases, transnational threats of terrorism, consequences of climate change impacting the inhabited islands or coastal areas of rim nations and natural calamities,” he added.
Gen Pande observed that these challenges are manifesting as “threats, singularly or plurally, impacting one or more nations amongst us”.
He said cooperation amongst the land forces, hence, is a critical component of the collective response.