"Recently, we inaugurated our separate diplomatic mission to the ASEAN, to underline the importance we attach to this grouping as an economic and strategic entity," he told delegates at the Shangri-la Dialogue
Singh, in his address, stressed that India has rapidly expanded engagement with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) over the past two decades into a full strategic partnership.
"ASEAN is an important part of India's vision of an open, mutual, inclusive and rules-based security architecture in the Asia Pacific region where disputes are resolved through dialogue and diplomacy rather than by unilateral show of force," Singh said.
"We intend to meet the expectations of our friends within ASEAN who want India to play a more proactive role in helping address traditional and non-traditional security threats in Southeast Asia and the wider Asia-Pacific," Singh said.
For most Asian countries to continue to grow rapidly, they will require assured access to energy resources and other commodities, he pointed out.
"We must remember that most of the world's shipping traffic including energy shipments traverse Asian waters. The same can increasingly be said of global value chains. Ensuring freedom of navigation in these waters is thus essential for all our security," he said.
"For us in India, freedom of navigation on the seas has always been important since our history has been shaped by the constant maritime inter-flow of goods and people between our coasts and other countries in Asia and Africa," the minister said.
"We are determined to build on our maritime traditions, to foster security, cooperation, prosperity and safety from nature's fury for all countries to which we are connected by the seas around us," Singh said.
India has always opposed the threat or unilateral use of force to resolve maritime territorial disputes as this can disrupt normal trade flows threatening the economic security of all countries that depend on free-flow of marine commerce, he said.
"We always urge all parties to such disputes to abjure military solutions and rely on diplomacy and international maritime law to come to a mutually acceptable outcome," said Singh at the dialogue whose main focus was the increasing level of disputes especially in the East Sea.
Freedom of navigation and energy security is also threatened by piracy in crowded sea-lanes, he added.
Cooperation between countries on exchange of information on white shipping and creation of Marine Domain Awareness has acquired new salience to prevent such threats at sea, Singh asserted.
"We in India are creating robust systems of coastal surveillance and monitoring, and are increasingly collaborating with partner countries to share best experience, conduct joint exercises and to exchange information," he said.
"The joint Coast-Guard 'Dosti' exercises between India, Sri Lanka and Maldives are an excellent example of such collaboration between littoral states. I would like to specially mention the bilateral naval exercises forum SIMBEX we have developed with Singapore, the 15th round of which just concluded with the participation of an indigenously built stealth frigate and an anti-submarine warfare corvette from India," the minister said.
Singh reminded the delegates that India took a lead in 2008 to establish the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium.
"Today it brings together 35 navies of the region with an aim to enhance mutual understanding of maritime challenges and develop our collective capacity to address these challenges," Singh said.
"Effective coastal surveillance can significantly enhance our ability to protect merchant shipping from piracy and to fight threats like smuggling, poaching and illegal fishing, and trafficking of people," he said.
Singh highlighted that India has created a robust system of coastal surveillance relying on radar systems, interceptor boats, registration and identification of bona-fide fishing vessels.
"We have also collaborated with other countries in the Indian Ocean like Seychelles and Mauritius to help build their capabilities for coastal surveillance. Another increasingly important form of security collaboration between nations is Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), he said.
Noting that tsunamis and earthquakes have taken major toll on the lives and livelihoods of Asian citizens in recent decades, Singh also asserted that major industrial accidents or oil-spills in the oceans can be hugely disruptive and often require a concerted response from all the countries in the region to provide immediate relief and long-term rehabilitation.
"Our armed forces increasingly undertake joint exercises to enhance inter-operability among themselves while responding to such crises. Enhancing our collective HADR capacity requires advanced countries to share technologies and platforms with countries that are willing to play a positive role in this regard," Singh said.
This can be a force multiplier and enable a stronger coalition to emerge in dealing with natural disasters and maritime threats, he stressed.
"In India, we are gradually strengthening our capacity to respond to such disasters not just in our own territory, but also in other parts of South Asia, in collaboration with our neighbours," Singh highlighted.
"Such collaboration was evident in the way we were able to respond when the Maldives was faced with a potential drinking water crisis last year after its water treatment plant was destroyed in a fire. Recently, we again took the lead in rushing rescue and relief teams to help the citizens of Nepal after the devastating earthquake," he pointed out.
"As far back as 2004, we had worked together with Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia to deliver immediate relief to the coastal areas devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami," he said.
An Indian naval vessel INS Saryu has just participated in the week-long ASEAN Regional Forum Disaster Relief Exercise (DIREX-15) in Penang, northern Malaysia, in collaboration with the navies of China, Malaysia and Thailand, he noted.
Singh also highlighted the evacuation of nationals trapped in situations of military conflict is another scenario where states need to work together to leverage each other's strengths and capacities.
"When we recently evacuated our citizens from the war-zone in Yemen, we also pulled out thousands of citizens of other countries. The same was the case in evacuation operations undertaken from Libya, Syria and Iraq.
"The increasing penetration and dominance of the internet in our lives has created another potential new threats to our security and also established a new arena for states to collaborate for mutual security," Singh said.
The Shangri-la Dialogue is an inter-governmental security forum held annually by an independent think-tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and is attended by Defence Ministers, permanent heads of ministries and military chiefs of 28 Asia-Pacific countries.