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Remarks by External Affairs Minister at the 3rd Indian Ocean Conference, Vietnam (August 27, 2018)

August 27, 2018

It gives me great pleasure to be here with you all today. At the outset, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Government of Vietnam for their kind support in hosting this event.

My thanks also to the India Foundation and its partner institutions from Singapore, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh for organizing this Conference.

I am particularly happy that the 3rd Indian Ocean Conference is taking place in Hanoi. We had the honour to host H.E. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, along with the leader from ASEAN for the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in January this year. This was followed by the State Visit of H.E. President Tran Dai Quang to India in March.

We agreed to further strengthen our cooperation in the maritime domain, including on anti-piracy, security of sea lanes and exchange of white shipping information.

We also agreed on the importance of the early conclusion of an ASEAN-India Maritime Transport Cooperation Agreement. In this context, we intend to accelerate the establishment of direct shipping routes between the sea ports of India and Vietnam.

It is only appropriate I mention this today because India and Vietnam are connected not only by the common waters that wash our shores but also by a shared vision for peace and prosperity. Hanoi is therefore a particularly appropriate setting for us to discuss developments in the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific region.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In an inter-dependent world characterised by enhanced economic and trade linkages, the importance of sustainable use of our ocean resources cannot be overstated. For us in India, the seas around us have nurtured our links of commerce and culture with our extended neighbourhood over millenia.

This is evident in our shared cultural ties, stretching from Africa to Asia. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that in Indian mythology the Indian Ocean was known as ‘Ratnakara’ – the creator of gems. The waters of this great ocean were considered as the source of riches and prosperity. The economies of its littoral states depended directly and indirectly on the Indian Ocean. Today, it does not just support trade, but sustains livelihoods.

With the eastward shift of the engines of the global economy, there can be no doubt that the Indian Ocean is at the centre of the emerging ‘Age of Asia’. The economic importance of the Indian Ocean and its vital role in the continued prosperity and development of the littoral nations is well established.

This region is host to the world’s busiest waterways and three-quarters of that traffic is headed for destinations beyond our region. As an important trade and energy waterway, carrying half the world’s container shipment, one-third of its bulk cargo traffic and two thirds of oil shipments, the Indian Ocean clearly assumes importance well beyond its immediate shores and its littorals.

Nurturing a climate of peace and stability in this region is therefore an important priority for our foreign policy. We believe that despite our diversity, the challenges we face are quite similar. Our vision for the region is one of cooperation and collective action.

Friends,

We cannot tap the bounty of the Indian Ocean without ensuring maritime peace and stability. Economic prosperity and maritime security go hand-in-hand. Security is an all-encompassing concept and includes traditional, non-traditional and newly emerging threats.

These include maritime terrorism, smuggling, transnational crimes, drug-trafficking, illegal immigration, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, piracy, unregulated private maritime security companies and proliferation of sensitive items. It is further compounded by natural disasters, oil spills and effects of climate change, to which our region is highly prone.

It is self evident, therefore, that those who live in this region bear the primary responsibility for peace, stability and prosperity in the Indian Ocean. It is equally valid that it is only through collective action that we can meet these challenges.

It is in this context that I wish to underline that we see ASEAN as central to the regional maritime architecture. This was recognized by our leaders during the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in January this year. In the Delhi Declaration issued to mark this occasion, we reiterated the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, stability and maritime safety and security, and freedom of navigation and overflight in the region.

We support the lawful uses of the seas and unimpeded lawful maritime commerce and to promote peaceful resolutions of disputes, in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, notably the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Friends,

The diverse nature of the challenges before us require effective partnerships, both at the regional as well as multilateral level. India considers the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) as an important instrument for achieving peace and security in the region. We commend Indonesia’s leadership in conceptualising the first ever IORA leaders Summit in Jakarta in March last year, which resulted in the Jakarta Concord.

This has infused fresh momentum into IORA activities. We are supportive of the invigoration of IORA activities, including blue economy and renewable energy. The focus of the IORA on maritime safety and security promotes a shared understanding of maritime issues, and helps develop cooperative mechanisms. Taken together, these will also enhance the regional HADR capacity in cases of natural disasters and crises. We share a common vision for the Indo-Pacific.

Excellencies,

In March 2015, Prime Minister Modi put forward the concept of SAGAR, proposing a holistic vision for India’s engagement with this region. SAGAR in Hindi means ocean. Prime Minister Modi’s vision is that in this century SAGAR should stand for ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’.

In its implementation, this approach includes: (a) projects to promote hinterland linkages and strengthen regional connectivity, (b) linking South Asia to South East Asia (Act East) and to the Gulf (Think West), and (c) playing an active and constructive role in strengthening regional maritime security. Allow me to elaborate briefly on my country’s approach to each of these three elements.

The first part is our focus on developing hinterland linkages & regional connectivity. Under our Government’s ‘Sagarmala’ project, initiatives we have taken include building new ports and modernizing old ones, developing inland waterways and hinterland development are all aimed at a robust maritime logistics infrastructure. Our eastern seaboard is a particular focus and can help recreate an integrated hub and spoke model for regional connectivity in the Bay of Bengal.

Carrying this focus beyond our borders, India is today devoting more resources and assigning greater priority to building connectivity, contacts and cooperation in our immediate neighbourhood. This is manifest in projects in sectors ranging from rail and road transport to power generation and transmission, from port and waterways transport to educational and health exchanges.

The second element is the expanded interpretation of what constitutes our neighbourhood. This is reflected in the renewed emphasis in our "Act East” Policy and the new "Think West” policy towards West Asia and Gulf region.

Our Act East Policy is at the heart of our eastward orientation and ties in with our broader approach to the Indo-Pacific. Over the years, our approach to the region has matured into a broader strategic engagement – with the ASEAN and its related frameworks like the ARF, EAS and ADMM+ as also with countries further east, including Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Pacific Islands.

We therefore accord high priority to key infrastructure projects such as the Kaladan multi-modal transport project that links to Sittwe Port, and the Trilateral Highway that will extend to Thailand. Our recent agreement with Indonesia to develop port infrastructure in Sabong is yet another step in this direction.

We are also looking towards a more sustainable future for this region, by collaborating with our regional partners on Blue Economy projects, harnessing renewable energy, investing in development of desalination technologies, harvesting the biodiversity of the oceans, and sustainably mining the ocean depths for marine minerals.

In all these engagements, we are guided by the development and security priorities of our partners. Our approach is based on inter-dependence rather than dominance or narrow reciprocal considerations. We support responsible and transparent debt financing matched by responsible lending practises.

We understand that following universally recognized international norms, transparency, openness, financial responsibility, and promoting a sense of local ownership are essential for better and more sustainable development outcomes.

Coming to the third element, contributing to regional maritime security: we are working to ensure the safety and security of maritime traffic through the ocean by strengthening skills and logistics of our Indian Ocean neighbours.

We are helping our maritime neighbours set up their coastal surveillance networks for developing shared Maritime Domain Awareness.

We have signed White Shipping Agreements with a number of countries. In addition, our ships have undertaken coordinated patrolling and EEZ Surveillance on the request of our partners. Another element of ensuring safety of navigation in the IOR has been the hydrographic support provided to our partners to chart the waters of the region. This has been augmented with a large training and capacity building effort.

In addition to the ASEAN and IORA mechanisms I spoke of earlier, the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), of which India is a founding member, offers a broad-based platform for developing greater synergies with the Navies in the region. We also have well-established mechanisms like Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery (ReCAAP) and Contact Group on piracy off Somalia (CGPCS), and anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden at the western extremity of this ocean.

Friends,

Looking beyond our practical, day to day cooperation, it is important to build an overarching vision for the Indian Ocean region. Prime Minister Modi recently spoke of his vision of a free and inclusive Indo-Pacific.

The Indian Ocean is a central component of this free and inclusive Indo-Pacific.

The Indian Ocean is a region where some of the largest and smallest nations of the world have coexisted in harmony. The harmony is not only because of economic or cultural commonalities, but also of ideological and civilizational commonalities.

This is why I am so happy to see such a wide canvas of participation here, with delegates not only from Indian Ocean littorals including South Asia, ASEAN, West Asia and Africa, but also from China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, US, UK and Pacific Islands (Papua New Guinea), among others.

This is precisely the collective approach that is required in order to truly develop this region to its fullest potential. This region cannot be only a growth-engine; it has to be a community of ideas and commitments. We have to commit to the ideas of a rules-based order, equality under international law, peaceful resolution of disputes, and equitable distribution of the benefits of globalization.

I hope that over the next few days, this Conference will provide an opportunity to exchange our ideas on these issues. I wish you all very fruitful deliberations.

Thank You.

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