Modi, US defence secretary talk security amid tension over South China Sea

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their meeting the US Secretary of Defence, James Mattis, in Singapore | PTI photo
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday met US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis in Singapore and discussed security-related issues, days after the Pentagon renamed its Pacific Command as the Indo-Pacific Command in a largely symbolic move to signal India’s importance to the US military.


Modi, who was in Singapore on the last leg of his three-nation tour, held a closed-door meeting with Mattis during which both sides discussed all security-related issues of mutual and global interests, sources said. Mattis has described India as the “fulcrum’’ of security in the Indo-Pacific region.


The meeting was held on the sidelines of the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, which was addressed by Modi on Friday night.


“The focus of conversation was on the region in the context of PM’s keynote address at the #SLD18 yesterday evening,” Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.


In his address, Modi had said an “Asia of rivalry” would hold the region back, while an Asia of cooperation would shape the current century. Asia and the world would have a better future when India and China worked together with trust and confidence while being sensitive to each other’s interests, he had said. “We should all have equal access as a right under international law to the use of common spaces on sea and in the air that would require freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law,” he had said.


Mattis also addressed the dialogue where he stressed upon freedom for all and “reaffirmation for rule-based order”. On Saturday, he said the US was willing to work with China on a “results-oriented” relationship, but Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea were coercive and the Pentagon would “compete vigorously” if needed.


The meeting between the two leaders assumes significance as Mattis has stressed upon both countries working together and with other nations for ensuring peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region. “It is only appropriate that waterways remain open for all nations,” he said.


The meeting came days after the US renamed its oldest and largest military command — the Pacific Command — to the Indo-Pacific Command, amid heightened tensions with China over the militarisation of the South China Sea. China claims almost all of the South China Sea. Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter-claims over the area. The US also rejects China’s claims of ownership of the area.


The Pentagon’s move is also reflective of the growing importance of India in US strategic thinking.

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