'Indian Ocean nations should pursue more collective self-reliance': EAM Jaishankar
Need of the day is to build reliable and resilient supply-chains, says EAM Jaishankar
The nations of the Indian Ocean today need to reflect on whether they should pursue more collective self-reliance, or remain as vulnerable as in the past, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has said.
Delivering the keynote address at the 7th Indian Ocean Conference in Perth, Australia on February 9, 2024, he pointed out that the need of the day is to disperse production across more geographies and build reliable and resilient supply-chains.
"Our sustainable future lies in concentrating on the drivers of the future: digital, electric mobility, green hydrogen and green shipping," he added while addressing the conference, with the theme ‘Towards a Stable and Sustainable Indian Ocean’.
"As we gaze at the Indian Ocean, the challenges besetting the world are on full display there. At one extremity, we see conflict, threats to maritime traffic, piracy and terrorism. At the other, there are challenges to international law, concerns about freedom of navigation and overflights, and of safeguarding of sovereignty and of independence," EAM Jaishankar opined.
According to him, any disregard for arduously negotiated regimes like UNCLOS 1982 is naturally disturbing. In between, a range of trans-national and non-traditional threats present themselves, largely visible in a spectrum of interconnected illegal activities. Instability also increases when long-standing agreements are no longer observed, with no credible justification to justify a change of stance, he said.
"All of them, separately and together, make it imperative that there be greater consultation and cooperation, among the states of the Indian Ocean," EAM Jaishankar emphasized.
Mechanisms for the Indian Ocean Region
According to EAM Jaishankar, the Indian Ocean has a set of mechanisms that have evolved, each at their own pace. They include the Indian Ocean Rim Association, the Indian Ocean Commission, the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, the Colombo Security Conclave etc. As the concept of Indo-Pacific took root, initiatives like the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and the Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness Initiative emerged, amongst others.
Since 2014, India has joined or initiated 36 plurilateral groups in different domains. Many of them have a direct relevance to the future of the Indian Ocean.
Noting that the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) fosters cooperation and sustainable development, EAM Jaishankar added that it contributes to enhancing regional security by addressing maritime safety, piracy, and environmental sustainability.
At the same time, the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), proposed by India in 2019, is an open, non-treaty based global initiative that seeks to manage, conserve, sustain, and secure the maritime domain, EAM Jaishankar said as he outlined the role of different nations.
In the IPOI, Australia’s leadership on Maritime Ecology, the United Kingdom’s on maritime security, and the co-leadership of France and Indonesia on the Maritime Resources pillars have helped to make a beginning. Over the past year, Italy has joined Singapore in leading the Science and Technology pillar, while Germany took the helm in Capacity Building and Resource Sharing.
The United States, in partnership with Japan, now co-leads the Trade, Connectivity, and Maritime Transport pillar, and India leading the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management pillar and co-leading on Maritime Security, has added to the realisation of this initiative.
EAM Jaishankar also flagged the growth of the BIMSTEC, an important regional forum covering the Bay of Bengal.
"For India, it is a convergence of our ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, or ‘Act East’ outlook and the Indian Ocean interests. India is the lead country for the Security pillar of BIMSTEC, which covers counter-terrorism and transnational crime, disaster management and energy security," he pointed out.
Quad a Forum for Global Good
Referring to the emergence and the consolidation of the Quad grouping, he said it addresses maritime security, safety, HADR, environment protection, connectivity, strategic technologies, supply chain resilience, health, education and cyber security, amongst others.
The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and the Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness are larger endeavours that have emerged from the deliberations of the Quad. The Quad is today a forum for global good that is particularly active in regard to the global commons, EAM Jaishankar noted.
"Its deepening is in the interest not only of its members but of the larger region which draws benefit from its activities," he remarked.
According to EAM Jaishankar, Quad supports the larger architecture in this part of the world that has been painstakingly built up over so many years by ASEAN processes. "Those who mischievously suggest that Quad questions the centrality of the ASEAN are playing their own. I am confident that ASEAN will see through it," he stated.