India's Modi urges Indo-Pacific to fight protectionism

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers a keynote address at the opening dinner of the 17th IISS Shangri-la Dialogue, an annual defense and security forum in Asia, held in Singapore, Friday, June 1, 2018, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim)
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers a keynote address at the opening dinner of the 17th IISS Shangri-la Dialogue, an annual defense and security forum in Asia, in Singapore, Friday, June 1, 2018, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim)
In this photo released by Singapore Ministry of Communications and Information, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, poses with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for a photo during a meeting at the Istana or presidential palace in Singapore Friday, June 1, 2018. 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. (Mohd Fyrol/Ministry of Communications and Information via AP)
In this photo released by Singapore Ministry of Communications and Information, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, watches Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speak during their joint press conference at the Istana or presidential palace in Singapore Friday, June 1, 2018. 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. (Mohd Fyrol/Ministry of Communications and Information via AP)
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers a keynote address at the opening dinner of the 17th IISS Shangri-la Dialogue, an annual defense and security forum in Asia, held in Singapore, Friday, June 1, 2018, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim)

SINGAPORE — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday urged countries in the Indo-Pacific region to unite against protectionism and cross-border tensions, including those in international waters, for the prosperity of all.

Speaking at an annual security conference in Singapore, Modi said the region faces an array of challenges. "We see growing mutual insecurity and rising military expenditure. Internal dislocations turning into external tensions, and new fault lines in trade and competition in the global commerce," he said.

"I am increasingly convinced, with each passing day, that the destinies of those of us who live in the region are linked. Today, we are being called to rise above divisions and competition to work together."

Modi was the keynote speaker the Shangri-La Dialogue, attended by U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, defense officials and academics from 43 countries.

He said India was interested in strengthening its relationships with partners in the region and beyond, including China, Japan and Southeast Asia.

"Our interests in the region are vast and our engagement is deep. We are also helping build economic capabilities and improve maritime security for our friends and partners," he shared.

ASEAN accounts for over 20 percent of India's overseas investment.

Earlier Friday, Modi met Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and called for an "open, fair and transparent" maritime agreement that would make international waters more secure amid increasingly tense territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

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 and Lee 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.

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.

The Shangri-La Dialogue will tackle issues including terrorism, Myanmar's refugee crisis and security on the Korean Peninsula.

Mattis has also 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.

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