Excellencies and distinguished delegates,
It gives me immense pleasure to join you all, albeit virtually, in this 8th edition of the Indian Ocean Dialogue (IOD). The IOD is IORA’s premier track 1.5 forum for open and free flowing dialogue among various stakeholders - scholars, experts, analysts and policy makers from governments, think tanks and civil societies on strategic issues of interest and concern facing the region and beyond. In the current context that challenge is due to the still ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic which has rightfully been chosen as the thematic focus for this edition.
2. The Indian Ocean Dialogue (IOD) has its origins in the 13th IORA Council of Ministers meeting, held in November 2013 in Perth, Australia. We have come a long way since the time the first edition of the IOD was held in Kerala, India in September 2014. This is the 3rd IOD being hosted by India, the 2nd one being the 6th edition in New Delhi in December 2019 where we adopted the ‘Delhi consensus’.
3. We take this opportunity to thank and appreciate the outgoing IORA Chair, the UAE for organizing the 7th edition around the theme ‘Fostering a New Era of Cooperation in the Indian Ocean’ in February 2021 and see this 8th edition of the dialogue as a continuation of the discussions at the 7th edition around the opportunities and challenges emerging in a post-COVID-19 world, with regional and international engagement and collaboration, in the spirit of solidarity, remaining the critical and enduring driver of much needed solutions.
4. The Indian Ocean Rim region is among the world’s most vital in terms of global commerce, energy, environmental and geopolitical stability. With its rich natural resources and bio-diversity, it is an engine for growth and prosperity. Half of the world’s container ships, and two-thirds of the world’s oil shipments pass through the Indian Ocean Rim region, which is home to more than 2.7 billion people. The ocean lies at the heart of the economic and civilisational impulses that stretch from the eastern and southern shores of Africa all the way up to the Australia.
5. India, being strategically located in the Indian Ocean Region with an extensive coastline and presence of several islands has a long maritime tradition. This has helped us to forge deep rooted commercial, cultural and religious ties with countries in the region over centuries and evolve a vision that encompasses the interests of all.
6. It is of utmost importance that the waters of the Indian Ocean that wash our shores remain safe and secure. India’s vision of the region is premised on SAGAR doctrine i.e. "Security and Growth for All in the Region”, as outlined by our Prime Minister, encompassing political, security, economic, and socio-cultural spheres. It envisions the Indian Ocean region and the greater Indo-Pacific as a region of peace & prosperity, based on a climate of trust and transparency, respect for international maritime rules, equal access as a right under international law, sensitivity to each other’s interests, peaceful resolution of disputes and enhanced maritime cooperation.
7. It is important not to lose sight of the interconnectedness of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean regions, which presents opportunities for communities in IORA Member States. The Indo-Pacific concept recognizes the incontrovertible geographic logic of these two oceans. The Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative (IPOI), announced by India in 2019, as a practical implementation of its Indo-Pacific vision and in line with SAGAR doctrine, envisages a free, open, inclusive and rules based Indo-Pacific, and focuses on seven central pillars of cooperation covering Maritime Security; Marine Ecology; Maritime Resources; Capacity Building & Resource Sharing; Disaster Risk Reduction & Management; Science, Technology & Academic Cooperation; and Trade, Connectivity & Maritime Transport. The IPOI is a collaborative endeavour for countries to work together towards cooperative solutions to common challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, of which the Indian Ocean is an intrinsic part.
8. India will always work towards keeping the seas, space and airways free and open; nations secure from terrorism and piracy; ensuring access to and responsible use of global commons, a global cyber-space free from disruption and fair, transparent and balanced trading systems; and enhancing connectivity, for inclusive and sustainable national, regional and global economic growth.
9. Speaking of the current context of the COVID-19 global pandemic, it can be said that a crisis can often be the basis of creativity and our endeavour should be to come out of the pandemic stronger. The coronavirus pandemic has triggered a new urgency to re-imagine international cooperation and expand its ambition further. The pandemic has clearly accelerated the significant socio-economic changes that the Indian Ocean Region has been witnessing. The Pandemic has disrupted supply chains, impacted manufacturing and affected trade in goods and services, altering not just the various dimensions of our day to day business but our very way of life. It has provided the backdrop for rethinking our approach on economic policies as well as global outlook. The pandemic has brought out the many inadequacies in the global health system and health has emerged as a more serious priority for all societies. The silver lining is that the COVID-19 global pandemic is not only a story of global disruptions but also our resilience and solidarity.
10. India, on its part, is trying to foster meaningful multi-stakeholder partnerships, sharing of advanced and frugal technologies, collaboration in vaccine and pharmaceutical production and transparency in health information among others. India's contribution to the world despite our own domestic challenges in the time of the pandemic is well known and acknowledged. In the Indian Ocean region, we have extended our full support and assistance in the form of medical supplies including vaccines, as well as financial assistance.
11. India has a reputation for being the first responder in the region with humanitarian and disaster relief (HADR) which we strived to live up to during the COVID pandemic. Our outreach to the Indo-Pacific region during the Covid19 pandemic included supply of essential food items, protective wear and healthcare equipment; deployment of Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) as well as Medical Assistance Teams (MAT); and supply of critical medicines and vaccines, liquid oxygen and concentrators among other things. We also organized COVID-19 related online training through eITEC programmes for 802 healthcare professionals, administrators, nursing officers, counsellors, drug regulatory authorities and other stakeholders of Indo-Pacific region.
12. Nationally, we have been following a pre-emptive, proactive, and graded response characterised by a "Whole of Society, Whole of Government" approach to manage the challenges posed by the global pandemic. Recently we crossed a major milestone of more than a billion vaccinations. We have been progressively expanding the scope of the vaccination services to reach the last mile from health care workers to children aged 2 and above by fully leveraging our robust health care system and new and digital technologies. We also need to expeditiously normalize travel through certification recognition so that livelihoods are restored as soon as possible. India has worked out solution with about a 100 nations in this regard and look forward to expanding the same in the Indian Ocean Region.
13. The IOD seeks to explore areas where IORA can contribute towards shaping a peaceful and prosperous future for the Indian Ocean. The canvas of IORA cooperation is vast and largely unexplored. The principles of the IORA Charter and the vision of our leaders as enunciated in the Jakarta Accord remain our main guiding documents. In its 25th anniversary year IORA needs to not only look back at the achievements made and lessons learned but also surge ahead with greater purpose and ambition. With "Harnessing the opportunities of Indian Ocean sustainably for inclusive development” as the thrust of Bangladesh as the new Chair and a new Secretary General to assume office from January 2022, this may be very opportune.
14. We recognize that a different world awaits us. It is one that puts a greater premium on trust, technology and transparency as well as resilience and reliability.
15. IORA, as the pre-eminent regional organization has a critical role to play in this regard. On its part, India remains committed to share her experience and resources in the spirit of solidarity.
16. I am confident that over the course of the day, this congregation of the various stakeholders will help generate new ideas and strategies for concrete action based on enhanced interest, greater clarity and collaborative partnerships to further our common pursuit of progress and prosperity in the region and beyond.
17. I wish great success for this 8th edition of the Indian Ocean Dialogue and thank you for a patient listening.