The Defence Minister AK Antony will be leaving for Singapore today to attend the 11th edition of the Shangri La Dialogue organized by the International Institute of Strategic Studies. The Defence Minister will be expounding on issues like freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and other maritime prerogatives. Antony will also hold bilateral discussions with leaders from countries Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Singapore, South Korea, France, Canada and Tonga.
Defence Minister Antony will be accompanied by a delegation including Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma and Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, chief of the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) headquarters. The Shangri La dialogue has been a consistent annual event since 2002. The Shangri La dialogue will also be attended by the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who is to visit India in the first week of June.
Besides the wrath of Somalia-based piracy which hampered the trade and security in the region, one of the primary issues that will be discussed is the situation in South China Sea. There have been maritime territorial disputes between the countries of the region, including China and Vietnam. Currently, three ASEAN members including Vietnam, Malaysia and Philippines are in a bitter dispute over the ownership of the 52 islands in South China Sea.
While China has been asserting ownership over islands in the South China Sea, it has expressed its disapproval against India's attempts to co-operate with Vietnam. Vietnam has reached an agreement with India on oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea and has also enhanced its military cooperation with India. China has clearly indicated that it will not stand any joint cooperation in areas claimed by China.
On the other hand, countries like India, China and Japan have also been urged by European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) to deploy more assets to fight sea pirates. In April this year, Indian Navy Chief Admiral Verma had stressed the need for "clear demarcation” of piracy-infested waters as well as setting up "standard operating procedures” to boost inter-operability among the different navies and taskforces operating in the region.
During the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore, Defence Minister Antony will be reiterating the importance of maritime trade and commerce and the need for an efficient framework of maritime safety, disaster management and law enforcement at sea.