NEW YORK: Highlighting the growing convergence of India, Japan and US interests in the Indo- Pacific region, the three nations underscored the importance of international law, peaceful settlement of disputes and freedom of navigation, including in the South China Sea.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, her Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida and US Secretary of State John Kerry attended the first US-India-Japan Trilateral Ministerial dialogue here during which they agreed to work together to maintain maritime security through greater collaboration.
In a media note released after the meeting yesterday, the three ministers highlighted the growing convergence of their respective countries' interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
"They also underscored the importance of international law and peaceful settlement of disputes; freedom of navigation and overflight; and unimpeded lawful commerce, including in the South China Sea," the media note said.
Addressing the meeting, Swaraj said the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean region is strategic for India to its security and economic interests. The sea lanes of communication in the region are the lifetime – the lifeline of India's trade and commercial externalities, she said.
She noted that as part of India's 'Act East' policy, the country has focused on building stronger linkages with centers of economic growth in the region and deepened political and security ties with them, including ASEAN member countries.
In keeping with the Act East policy, India seeks an early membership of the APEC, Swaraj said as she voiced keenness to work with the US and Japan for early membership of APEC.
"We see the first meeting of India-US-Japan as a trilateral partnership for peace, prosperity, and stability in the region as an effort to strengthen transparency, inclusivity, and the rule of law in the region, and as a commitment to what we can do together for our mutual benefit and also for the larger good of the region," she said at the meeting held on the sidelines of the 70th UN General Assembly.
Given that a substantial part of India's energy and goods trade passes through the crucial sea lanes of Asia Pacific, Swaraj said as a law-abiding nation India has always supported the freedom of navigation in international waters, the right of passage and overflight, unimpeded commerce and access to resources in accordance with principles of international law.
Representing a quarter of the world's population and economic production power, the three countries highlighted their shared support for peace, democracy, prosperity, and a rules-based international order.
Swaraj said the meeting highlights increasing convergence of the three countries’ strategic, political, economic, and security interests.
"To realise our mutual objectives, we intend to grow our exchanges into complete trilateral engagement in other areas, including regional connectivity and humanitarian assistance in disaster situation, to realise our mutual objectives," she added.
China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea and over the past year has asserted its stance by rapidly converting tiny reefs into artificial islands, with facilities for military use.
Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei all have rival claims to the waters, which incorporate strategically crucial shipping lanes and could harbour oil and gas deposits.
China has been alleging outside interference specially from the US in its maritime disputes with regional countries.
China is also critical about India's ONGC taking up the invitation of Vietnam to drill of Hanoi's coast saying that it is a disputed area. India has been asserting that it is a commercial operation and has no bearing on the dispute to be resolved by the parties concerned.
The three ministers reiterated their support for ASEAN centrality in the multilateral political and security architecture in the Asia-Pacific region.
Recognising the three countries' extensive disaster response capabilities and converging interests, they agreed to convene an experts-level group on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to enhance ability to respond jointly to complex disasters.
In an effort to capitalise on collective capacities in promoting regional economic linkages, they launched an experts-level group on regional connectivity to identify collaborative efforts that can help strengthen regional connectivity, including between South and Southeast Asia.
Kerry said the meeting is significant as all of East Asia is an area of enormous economic growth and also a place of challenge for some other issues of security.
"It’s an important moment for us to be able to underscore our interest in the Indo-Pacific region as part of India's East Asia policy, and also part of Japan's very active engagement with South and Southeast Asia under Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe," Kerry said.
Kishida said the US, India, and Japan, working in close cooperation, will be truly significant not only for the bilateral relations among the three countries but also for the stability and prosperity of the whole Indo-Pacific region.
The US and India also welcomed Japan’s participation in the 2015 MALABAR exercise