An Ad Hoc Committee on the Indian Ocean 2021 was held last week where the Indian Counsellor A. Amarnath urged for a much more peaceful Indian Ocean region. He said that India was seeking for a “more cooperative and integrated future for the Indian Ocean region through overall development of the ocean and the blue economy”. This is in tune with the general mood advocated by many countries around the world. The Indo Pacific region is a seamless contiguous region extremely important for many spheres of international politics.
There has been a concern about the region especially after the pandemic impacted the entire world. On one hand, there is concern about the Chinese influence in the region. On the other, there has been an increase in the stake holders and interested parties. The two aspects are indirectly related with many intervening variable playing crucial parts.
Developments in the Region
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) hosted the 11th Bi-Annual Committee of Senior Officials held virtually to discuss the prevailing challenges in the Indian Ocean Region from 11-16th June 2021. The officials from 23 member states pondered upon the ways to peacefully address challenges arising in the Indian Ocean Region to enhance stability in accordance with Jakarta Accord. At the meet, Bangladesh urged the members to implement and further explore opportunities of economic cooperation with respect to the liberalisation, trade facilitation, promotion of investment, scientific and technological exchanges. Bangladesh is the current Vice Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and will take charge of the Chair from November 2021.
The Acting Secretary General Dr Gatot Gunawan spoke of how the IORA region continued to make progress during the pandemic with respect to the maritime safety, security and advancing the region’s understanding of carbon issues through the IORA Blue Carbon hub.
While France is the new addition to the IORA, there have been discussions about the inclusion of Russia in the organisation too. There is a constant evolution in the process of the institutional set up to increase the over all prosperity and peace in the region. IORA recently welcomed funding from France for capacity building to enhance the capabilities.
India launched a trilateral dialogue with Italy and Japan to promote the strategic stability in the region. At the webinar, the relevance of Japan, United States, Australia, ASEAN, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the EU was acknowledged by the India.
In terms of the focus areas, there is much work being done on issues ranging from maritime security to fisheries stocking to the recent report launched about Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Indian Ocean Rim. Recently the IORA and Agence Francaise de Development (AFD) approved a Financing Agreement to strengthen the Secretariat. There has been constant push for developing a IORA Human Development Fund. The area holds relevance in all aspects.
In addition to that, a meeting is scheduled for 13th July 2021 to initiate a capacity building programme in fish stock assessment. Fish stock assessments are basically a process of providing a scientific basis for fisheries management. The IORA attempts to promote a solution based approach by involving institutions. The meeting on 13th July aims to address two main issues with the help of the French Development Agency – one, present a report on the existing capacity in fish stock assessment and second, present the work of the Food and Agriculture Organisation in the field and the available technical support.
Causes for the Rise in Concern
The Indian Ocean region is one of the most important areas for reasons including economic, strategic as well as political factors. There is a constant concern about the increasing Chinese influence in the ocean. There have been accusations against China for trying to make its presence ‘felt’ by military exercises as well as by establishing its control by artificially building islands with military presence.
Apart from that, there has been a general concern amongst the major powers to re-structure the international order. There have been attempts from various countries to bring in a stronger system of checks and balances. Due to the pandemic, there are several economies around the world that are struggling and an understanding in the Indian Ocean Area will benefit many.
A point worth noting is the addition of new members to the IORA. This brings in many more new stakeholders who have all the mentioned interests in the region.
Indian Approach in the Region
IORA as an organisation focusses on various facets of the Indian Ocean. While IORA continues to help in taking the region forward, security has emerged as a major challenge. A holistic approach will benefit all. The Indian approach has been generally towards promotion of cooperation and peace in the Indian Ocean.
At the Shangri La Dialogue held in 2018, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of a “free, open, inclusive Indo-Pacific Region which embraces all countries in a common pursuit of progress and prosperity”. India advocates the policy of a rule based international order that promotes global commons. With a vision that emphasises building of infrastructure and connectivity, upholding sovereignty and territorial integrity, good governance, transparency, consultation, viability and sustainability. India proposed the Indo-Pacific Ocean’s Initiative (IPOI) and took lead in Disaster Risk Reduction and Management and Maritime Security.
New Delhi has partnered with Japan in unlocking the potential for a Connectivity Pillar of IPOI. It has also urged Italy to cooperate by sharing its manufacturing prowess. The Indo Pacific Region can be a means to enhance all facets of connectivity that will go a long way in promoting trade, security, etc. It is imperative that all the countries cooperate and promote a rule based order and support India in the initiative.