The US has long called for India to play a greater role in the Indo-Pacific region

NEW DELHI: India, Japan and the United States on Wednesday held their 9th Trilateral Meeting here to give momentum to the Indo-Pacific construct through partnership with like-minded countries in the region including ASEAN amid rising tensions in the South China Sea region and Beijing’s growing expansionist ambitions.

The three sides led by their Joint Secretaries also discussed how to involve ASEAN countries to safeguard security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region. The issue of the need for ASEAN centrality to ensure the group’s role in safeguarding Indo-Pacific region was also discussed, indicated persons familiar with the development.

The current tensions in the South China Sea region was also on the agenda of discussion as the three sides emphasised on Freedom of Navigation through the region. This comes amid Vietnam’s apprehension that tension in the South China Sea will hurt PetroVietnam’s offshore exploration and exploitation activities this year, weeks after the Southeast Asian nation suspended a Spanish project under pressure from China.

In accordance with the directions received from their Foreign Ministers, who met in New York on 18 September 2017 on the margins of UNGA, the officials explored practical steps to enhance cooperation in the areas of connectivity and infrastructure development; counter-proliferation; counter-terrorism; maritime security, maritime domain awareness and HADR.

The officials reviewed the outcomes of the Trilateral Infrastructure Working Group that met in Washington in February and agreed to continue to collaborate to promote increased connectivity in the Indo-Pacific.

All sides agreed to remain engaged and strengthen cooperation in support for a free, open, prosperous, peaceful and inclusive Indo-Pacific region through partnership with countries in the region.

The meeting was held in the backdrop of reports that the U.S. Navy could conduct drills at or near the South China Sea amid rising tensions with Beijing over trade tariffs and Chinese plans to deploy its first domestic aircraft carrier, according to Hong Kong press reports.

Chinese-language newspaper Oriental Daily News reported Tuesday the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group anchored at Singapore port and may soon be deployed to the South China Sea.

The group, led by Carrier Strike Group 9, is planning to conduct operations for the Seventh Fleet, and could conduct joint exercises with the militaries of other countries, the report states.

China recently conducted a large-scale drill involving its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. A total of 40 Chinese ships were involved in the exercises. China is wary of the U.S. military presence, a Chinese military analyst warned Tuesday.