NEW DELHI: In a veiled dig at China, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale on Thursday said that regional connectivity initiatives should promote trade, not tension. In his opening remarks at the first South Asia Regional Connectivity conference, which began at the Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi on Thursday,
Gokhale also reiterated the need for a “rules-based world order, which must uphold sovereignty, territorial integrity and equality of all nations,” particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.
Stressing India’s unique role in the region “by virtue of its geographical location and economic gravity,” he listed the major initiatives launched by India as part of its Act East and Neighbourhood First policies.
The conference, co-organized by CUTS International, East-West Center, FICCI and the US government, was also addressed by the Japanese ambassador to India, Kenji Hiramatsu, and US ambassador Kenneth Juster.
Gokhale also reiterated India’s deep and abiding interest in Afghanistan, and Iran’s importance in helping ship goods from India to Afghanistan through the Chabahar Port.
“India’s connectivity to our west continues, though it remains blighted. We have sought to bypass an unwilling regime in Islamabad by establishing in June 2017 an air freight corridor between India and Afghanistan, which we plan to expand to more cities. We are also seeking to develop the Chabahar Port as a gateway for onward connectivity to and from Afghanistan and Central Asia,” he said.
Apart from respect for international commitments and the rule of law, and access to “global commons which require freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law,” Gokhale also said that connectivity efforts must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations in the region, and be based on principles of economic viability and financial responsibility.