New Delhi: Amidst China's increasing military muscle flexing in the South China Sea, defence minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday told 10-nation Asean and its dialogue partners in Jakarta that India is committed to freedom of navigation, overflight and unimpeded lawful commerce in international waters in accordance with global norms.

Mr Singh attended the 10th Asean defence ministers’ meeting (ADMM)-Plus in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Thursday. Recognising that terrorism is a serious threat to international peace and security, including in the Asean region, India proposed to co-chair the experts' working group on counter-terrorism. This proposal was endorsed by ADMM-Plus, as terrorism remains a serious concern for countries in the region.

In his address, the defence minister stressed the role of dialogue and diplomacy in enduring peace and ensuring global stability. He reaffirmed India’s message to the world at large: "This is not an era of war". He spoke about the imperative to give up the "us versus them" mindset.

Mr Singh reiterated India's resolve to work with the Asean and its partner countries to ensure peace, prosperity and security in the region. He cited Mahatma Gandhi's famous quote on peace: "There is no way to peace, peace is the only way."

On the sidelines of the ADMM-Plus meeting, Mr Singh held a brief conversation with US defence secretary Lloyd Austin. In a reflection of the vibrant Indo-US defence relationship and personal rapport between

the two leaders, the US defence secretary walked across the conference room to meet the defence minister.

Both leaders used this opportunity to quickly review the tremendous progress achieved in the India-US defence partnership in recent years. They discussed how India and the US could contribute together to Asean centrality in the Indo-Pacific and the cause of "Peace, Prosperity and Security" -- the theme of the ADMM-Plus 2023 meeting.

They also discussed ways to expand the India-US partnership to address emerging challenges and further strengthen common efforts towards a more secure world.

The two leaders had earlier met in New Delhi on November 10, where they resolved to advance defence technology cooperation with joint research in emerging areas.

Mr Singh also held bilateral meetings with his Indonesian and Vietnamese counterparts on the sidelines of the ADMM-Plus meeting. During his meeting with the defence minister of Indonesia Prabowo Subianto, Mr Singh appreciated Indonesia’s Asean leadership this year and the excellent organisation of the ADMM-Plus.

The defence minister held talks with the minister of national defence of Vietnam Gen. Phan Van Giang. The two ministers reviewed the progress in the implementation of the joint vision statement on India-Vietnam defence partnership towards 2030, signed during the visit of the defence minister to Vietnam in June 2022.

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