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India’s Modi calls for rules-based order amid sea disputes

India’s Modi calls for rules-based order amid sea disputes

SINGAPORE: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi renewed calls Friday for a maritime agreement that would make international waters more secure amid increasingly tense territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
After meeting Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong ahead of an annual international security conference in the city-state, Modi said they reiterated their commitment to a rules-based order for maritime security and called for an open, fair and transparent agreement to make it happen.
China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial to global trade. Beijing has rejected accusations it’s militarizing the area and has been working with the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to reach a code of conduct to avoid frictions.
Modi will give a keynote address on Friday at the Shangri-La Dialogue conference, which will be attended by US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, among others. Mattis has sharply criticized what he called Beijing’s disregard for international law in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety.
The Pentagon cited evidence China has deployed anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missile systems and electronic jammers to contested areas in the Spratly Islands, where China has built military installations on man-made islands.
Lee welcomed India’s strengthened relationship with Singapore and the region.
“Singapore, as the current chair of ASEAN, will work with India to continue strengthening the regional architecture, and in particular to conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership,” he said, referring to a proposed free trade agreement between ASEAN and Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
Modi and Lee also agreed to step up cooperation in naval defense, cybersecurity and fight against drug trafficking. They formed a working group to link their countries’ payment systems and reviewed an economic agreement that has boosted bilateral trade from $9 billion in 2004 to over $18 billion.

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