India on Tuesday called for concerted efforts by like-minded nations to realise the shared vision for a free, open and rules-based Indo-Pacific with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh flagging concerns over the region facing a "complex web" of security challenges, including boundary disputes.
His comments at the opening session of the India-hosted 13th Indo-Pacific Armies Chiefs' Conference came against the backdrop China's growing military assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific as well as the border row in eastern Ladakh.
In his remarks, Army Chief Gen Manoj Pande said the Indo-Pacific emerged as "pivotal theatre" in contemporary "geo-strategic" canvas and that India's outlook for the region emphasises respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states as well as peaceful resolution of disputes.
"While efforts by countries are converging towards effecting a free and stable Indo-Pacific, yet we are witnessing manifestations of inter-state contestations and competitions," Gen Pande said.
Chief of Staff of the US Army Gen Randy George said the partnership between the US and Indian Army is crucial for stability in the Indo-Pacific, noting the region is facing a challenging strategic environment.
The two-day conference, being attended by delegates from over 30 countries which included chiefs of around 15 armies. The US Army is the co-host of the event.
"We all know how important trust and friendship are in a challenging global security environment. Having great allies and partners is more important than ever before," Gen George said.
India also showcased some of its indigenously-developed military platforms at an exhibition that has been organised as part of the two-day conference.
In his address at the opening session of the conclave, Defence Minister Singh emphasised that the Indo-Pacific is no more a maritime construct, but a full-fledged geo-strategic issue, and that the region is facing "a complex web" of security challenges, including boundary disputes and piracy.
"Our efforts to build robust military partnerships with friendly countries underscore our commitment to safeguard national interests & address global challenges," he said, asserting that India stands for a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific.
Army Chief Gen Pande said India's commitment towards "positively engaging" all stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific has been "unwavering and enduring" over the years.
"India's strategic location, astride the vital sea lanes of communication, in the Indo-Pacific, propels us as a key player in the region's discourse," he said.
"Our outlook emphasises respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations in the region, equality of all, peaceful resolution of disputes, avoidance of use of force and adherence to international laws, rules and regulations," he said.
Gen Pande said the "challenges we face are significant, but so is our collective wisdom and strength."
"The challenges we face transcend across borders, and our response to them must factor this. The Indo-Pacific region is not merely a collection of nations -- it is a web of interdependencies," he said.
"We are bound by geography, and our destinies are intertwined. The security and prosperity of one nation is intrinsically linked to the security and prosperity of its neighbours, and much beyond. Therefore, each one of us has an important and a pivotal role to play," he said.
Highlighting the geo-political significance and geo-economic weight of the Indo-Pacific nations, Gen Pande said it is evident from the fact that, the region accounts for 65 per cent of the world's population, 63 per cent of the global GDP and 50 per cent of the world's maritime trade.
"Hence, the impact of geographic and economic indispensability of the region to the world, naturally accords it the role of the pivotal theatre, in the contemporary geo-strategic canvas," he said.
Gen Pande pitched for greater cooperation in the spheres of security, connectivity and economy among the littoral states in the Indo-Pacific region.
"From a definitional perspective, the construct of 'Indo-Pacific' largely hints at primacy of navies, in the security stakeholdership of the region," he noted.
"While there is no denying this, the role of other components of armed forces, remains profoundly relevant. Apart from challenges exclusively in the maritime domain, a wide range of security and humanitarian concerns exist on land, too," he said.
"These range from territorial disputes over land masses, or in some cases even over artificially expanded islands to acquire real estate and establish military bases, transnational threats of terrorism, consequences of climate change impacting the inhabited islands or coastal areas of rim nations and natural calamities," he added.
Gen Pande observed that these challenges are manifesting as "threats, singularly or plurally, impacting one or more nations amongst us."
In his address, the defence minister explained his vision for the region through a theoretical model by American author Stephen R Covey, which is based on two circles -- 'Circle of Concern' and 'Circle of Influence'.
"There may be instances when the 'circles of concern' of different nations overlap with each other. International maritime trade routes passing through high seas, beyond the exclusive economic zones of any country, are relevant examples," he said.
"This can either result in conflict between nations or they can decide to coexist by mutually deciding the rules of engagement. The concept of these circles underscores the importance of strategic thinking and prioritisation," he added.
Singh pointed out that States must recognise that global issues involve multiple stakeholders and no one country can address these challenges in isolation.
He stressed the need to engage with the broader international community and work collaboratively through diplomacy, international organisations and treaties to tackle common concerns within the overlapping 'Circles of Concern'.
Singh termed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 as a good example of such an international agreement that establishes the legal framework for maritime activities and addresses the issues arising from overlapping 'circles of concern' of different nations.
Singh was of the view that States, at the same time, must identify and seek to expand their 'Circle of Influence' to promote national interests on the global stage.
This, he said, may involve building partnerships, participating in regional organisations and employing diplomatic, economic or military tools strategically.
"This conference is an exercise where we all are trying to expand our 'Circles of Influence' while harmonising the overlaps of our 'circles of concern'," he added.