The focus of the world is moving gradually to the Indian Ocean region, through which a bulk of the world’s shipping trade passes, and India with vital stakes in the region is stepping up its role as net security provider, said a top official Thursday.
Ashok K. Kantha, Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs, said there is need to develop a framework of greater cooperation, including in maritime security, among the 20-member Indian Ocean Rim countries.
Addressing the Trilateral Dialogue on Indian Ocean organised by the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) at Sapru House here, Kantha, who has been named to take over as Indian envoy to Beijing, said: “India has vital stakes in the Indian Ocean and in harnessing its capabilities as net security provider.”
Kantha said India has been asked by many countries of the Indian Ocean region to “step up” its role as net security provider. “India is seen as a benign maritime power,” and that view has been boosted by its timely responses to help other countries in times of crisis, including the 2004 tsunami, said the official.
The Indian Ocean is vital for energy security with two-thirds of the oil shipping passing through the area and one of the challenges in the region is of the region being “virtually land locked ocean”. Access to the region is through the Strait of Malacca through which 40 percent of the world trade is shipped and the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world’s oil trade passes, he said. “Any disturbance to the trade movement would adversely affect the global economy,” he stressed.
He said despite India having a geographical centrality in the region, and with economic and political linkages with other littoral states through centuries, enough attention was not paid to the region earlier, which fact, he added was now being recognised and given due attention.’
Kantha said the 20-member Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) is “punching below” its potential.The Trilateral Dialogue on the Indian Ocean is being held at Sapru House between India, Australia, which is to take over as chair of the IOR-ARC and Indonesia, which will be vice chair.
Peter Jennings of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said the Indian Ocean was vital for his country with 90 percent of Australia’s trade value coming by sea. He said Australia, which saw a new government take over earlier this week, views IOR-ARC as a platform for balanced dialogue. He proposed that the forum could look into areas of hydrography, fisheries, cybersecurity, anti-piracy and cooperation in counter terrorism among other things.
Arthauli R.M.P. Tobing, secretary of the Presidential Advisory Council for International Relations, Indonesia, proposed “dynamic equilibrium” among partner countries, which she explained was “balance of power within the region”.
ICWA chairperson Rajiv K. Bhatia described the trilateral dialogue as a “Track II” exercise aimed at well-being of the region.
He said the Indian Ocean region enjoys “exceptional importance” and the region needs to collectively cope with the challenges of the 21st century. He said that despite the different priorities of each country it should be possible to identify the common contemporary challenges in the region, like expanding trade, on energy security, infrastructural linkages, piracy, safer navigation among other things.