Director General of ICWA, Dr T C A Raghavan
Your Excellency, Dr NomvuyoNokwe, Secretary General of the Indian Ocean Rim Association
Your Excellency Mr Salem al Zaabi,
Ms Nutan Kapoor Mahawar, Joint Secretary, ICWA
Distinguished delegates to this Dialogue,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I thank ICWA for inviting me to this 6th edition of the Indian Ocean Dialogue, with the rather imaginative theme of re-imagining the Indian Ocean.
The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) was the first post-cold war organization that renewed the historical civilizational and commercial links between the littoral states of the Indian Ocean. As Cold War divisions dissolved, the waters of the ocean could once again be seen as connecting nations, rather than separating them.
IORA is said to have been inspired by the words of Nelson Mandela, that facts of history and geography lead to the concept of an Indian Ocean Rim for socio-economic cooperation. The range of this cooperation has progressively widened, as also the membership of the Association, in response to emerging opportunities. Emerging realities also introduced security issues to the agenda. As extra-regional powers expanded their presence in the Indian Ocean region, IORA engaged with more dialogue partners and international organizations.
The same logic of responding to changing realities is today urging the countries of the Indian Ocean region to recognize an expanded geography as integral to their interests and security. The advance of globalization, technology and communications is one factor. Another is the global churn, as multiple rising state actors jostle for space to assert their national interests and advance their aspirations in a post-Cold War multipolar order.
You cannot argue with geography. The waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans do form a continuum, and so the Indo-Pacific is a valid geographical description. What we are talking about, in the theme of this Dialogue is an expanded strategic geography of the Indian Ocean. A peaceful and stable environment across this continuum would meet the security and economic interests of all our countries.
The strategic concept of the Indo-Pacific succeeds that of the Asia-Pacific, which, of course, was a geopolitical construct of the Cold War, rather than a natural geographical or economic space. It did not include the Indian Ocean. The Asia-Pacific was the arena of an ideological and military confrontation between the two politico-military blocs of that era. As the ideological confrontation collapsed and the military threats receded, the relevance of this construct also abated. New geopolitical realities now challenge the littoral countries of the Indian and Pacific Oceans to shape a new equilibrium in this broader region, which will protect their interests.
India has a critical interest in this. For political, security and geographical reasons, our opportunities for foreign trade by land are limited. Therefore, well over 90% of our foreign trade, including much of our energy supplies is seaborne. Over a third of this trade passes through the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean beyond. The protection of our 7500 km coastline against external threats;efficient use of marine resources; tackling arms, narcotics and human trafficking; and ensuring the security of sea lanes for commerce, transport and communications are, therefore, important Indian priorities.
The Indo-Pacific space has three major international groupings. Besides IORA, we have ASEAN and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic cooperation (BIMSTEC). There is some overlap in their geographies and membership. There are differences in the specificities of their origin and organizational philosophy. But all these groupings are broadly convergent in their aspirations for the Indo-Pacific. These include respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries, regardless of size and strength; preservation of marine resources; ensuring maritime security; and freedom of navigation and overflight. Their members agree that these objectives should be achieved through inclusive consultative processes, to evolve ideas and strategies for a new, stable and sustainable security architecture.
It is, of course, self-evident that political, economic and security challenges vary in different segments of this vast geographical space. They need to be addressed through different strategies.
Much of the current discourse focusses on the eastern Indo-Pacific, which is the part of the Indian Ocean east of India, together with the Pacific Ocean. Even in this segment, which is the definition of the indo-Pacific for ASEAN, East Asia, Oceania and the US, there is a spectrum of perspectives on the content of a regional architecture, and on strategies to achieve it. The ASEAN’s outlook for the Indo-Pacific, put out in June this year, stresses its “central and strategic role” in realising a collective vision for an inclusive and rules-based framework, built on strategic trust and avoiding zero-sum game behaviour. Japan, which is one of the earlier articulators of an Indo-Pacific strategy, had advocated an ambitious course, which it has now moderated. Australia’s Prime Minister recently identified the balance between strategic engagement and strategic competition in the US-China relationship as an important determinant of peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. The President of Korea has talked about harmonious cooperation between Korea’s new Southern policy and the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy. The US Indo-Pacific strategy emphasises (like many others) sovereignty, independence, peaceful resolution of disputes, free, fair and reciprocal trade and investment, and freedom of navigation and overflight, but it is framed in terms of a rivalry between free and repressive world order visions. China naturally rejects this characterization. Russia remains somewhat sceptical about the geopolitical implications of the Indo-Pacific construct.
India’s efforts for an equilibrium of interests and aspirations in the region are informed by its economic and security interests, which I have already elaborated, as well as its strategic location astride the busy maritime corridors of the Indo-Pacific. These efforts include bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral initiatives to promotesharedperspectives on the elements of an open, inclusive, rules-based order. The partnerships forged through our Act East Policy showcase this. The unique presence of the Heads of all 10 ASEAN countries in New Delhi in 2018, celebrating India’s Republic Day and 25 years of India-ASEAN Dialogue, demonstrated our strong mutuality of interests. India has been actively involved in the recent rejuvenation of BIMSTEC, which includes Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka, to strengthen maritime, economic and security cooperation in this important enclave of the Indo-Pacific, which connects the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Our Navyparticipates in joint exercises with other Naviesto enhance interoperability for maritime security, anti-piracy, counter terrorism and disaster relief activities, and to promote capacities to keep commercial, communications and navigation channels open and secure.
A plurilateral initiative that has recently acquired a high profile is the quadrilateral security dialogue of India, US, Japan and Australia, known popularly as the Quad. This dialogue is essentially a search for strategies and approaches, based on shared perspectives. It should not be seen as an alliance or a closed club. The Quad and other bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral initiatives have to reconcile the nuances of individual interests and constraints of countries in the region.
In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi articulated an integrated maritime outlookfor India, Security AndGrowth for All in the Region, which appropriately abbreviates to SAGAR, which is the Hindi word for Ocean. This outlook has driven cooperation in trade, tourism, infrastructure, environment, blue economy and security. We have been partnering with countries, including Mauritius, Seychelles, Maldives and Sri Lanka to enhance maritime surveillance and infrastructure capacities.
The picture that emerges, therefore, is that discussions and initiatives on the Indo-Pacific are work in progress. Theterm has received acceptance as a geographical expression and has even entered the strategic lexicon, but we are yet to shape a universally agreedapproach to it. We need to build consensus by broadening cooperationon shared interests and concerns. This was the spirit of Prime Minister Modi’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative, which he unveiled at the recent East Asia Summit in Bangkok. It suggests collaborative work to safeguard the oceans; enhance maritime security; preserve marine resources; share resources fairly; reduce disaster risk; enhance S&T cooperation; and promote mutually beneficial trade and maritime transport. He suggested that one or two countries could take the lead in coordinating cooperation in each of these verticals. Members of IORA would recognize many of these ideas as according with its core priorities. IORA could well be a laboratory for creating templates of cooperation in some of these areas, which could be replicated in the larger Indo-Pacific region.
There is, therefore, a rich canvas for this dialogue as it reimagines an extended geography for the Indian Ocean Region.