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Keynote Address by Secretary (East) at the 5th EAS Conference on Maritime Security Cooperation

November 23, 2021

Distinguished delegates from EAS Participating Countries,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me immense pleasure to be here with you all at the 5th edition of the EAS Conference on Maritime Security Cooperation.

First of all I would like to thank Australia for partnering with India in organising this conference. I would also like to congratulate the ASEAN-India Centre (AIC) at RIS, National Maritime Foundation (NMF), and Centre for East and North East Regional Studies, Kolkata for collaborating with Ministry of External Affairs in holding this Conference.

This is the fifth edition of the EAS Conference on Maritime Security Cooperation which was initiated in 2015 with the first conference in New Delhi. The second was held in Goa in 2017, the third in Bhubaneswar in 2018 and the fourth in Chennai last year. I am happy to note that the Maritime Security Conference is well received by EAS participating countries where they actively engage in vibrant discussions on maritime issues to take forward the prospects for Maritime Multilateralism in the Indo-Pacific. The 5th round of the conference is a timely addition to these continuing discussions.

The East Asia Summit (EAS) is a premier Leaders-led forum to exchange views on strategic issues in the Indo-Pacific. Since its inception in 2005, EAS has been playing an important role in addressing both traditional and non-traditional security challenges in the region, including in the maritime domain of theIndo-Pacific. The recently held 16th EAS Summit also touched upon these issues, including the impact of the current Covid-19 pandemic on the security situation in the Indo-Pacific.

Friends, India and ASEAN are bound together by more than 2000 years of history and this relationship is one of the cornerstones of our foreign policy. ASEAN is the central pillar of India’s Act East Policy. India has always reaffirmed its commitment to ASEAN Centrality in the Indo-Pacific. We have been an active participant at all the ASEAN-centred mechanisms in the region including EAS, ARF, ADMM Plus, EAMF, working together to ensure peace and prosperity in the region. India was one of the first countries to support ASEAN’s own vision for the Indo-Pacific in form of ASEAN Outlook for the Indo-Pacific or AOIP.

Our own Vision for the Indo-Pacific as articulated by Prime Minister Modi in his Keynote address at the Shangrila Dialogue in Singapore in June 2018 shares a great deal of convergences with AOIP. At the 14th East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2019, Prime Minister Modi announced the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) as practical implementation of this shared Vision for the Indo-Pacific with a focus on collaborative effort to better manage, conserve, sustain and secure this maritime domain. Taking this forward, during the recently held 18th ASEAN-India Summit in October this year, India and ASEAN have announced a Joint Statement for cooperation on AOIP for practical implementation of the synergy of AOIP and IPOI.

India envisages a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific with respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations in the region, peaceful resolution of disputes, avoidance of use or threat of use of force, and adherence to international laws, rules and regulations. The IPOI, based on this vision of the Indo-Pacific, is an open and non-treaty based initiative which does not envisage creating any new institutional framework. It has seven pillars for cooperation and collaboration namely Maritime Security, Maritime Ecology, Maritime Resources, Capacity Building and Resource Sharing, Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, Science, Technology and Academic Cooperation and Trade, Connectivity and Maritime Transport with an aim to fulfil the overarching and converging interests in the Indo-Pacific.

Friends, as a nation deeply committed to strengthening the EAS as an ASEAN-led organization, India continues to contribute positively to the EAS goals including maritime security cooperation.We are happy to have valuable platform of EAS to take forward the objectives envisaged in IPOI and discuss the issues of common interests and address the common challenges in domain of Maritime Security together. The conference aims for practical and result-oriented cooperation among the EAS participating countries within existing architecture and initiatives, while also exploring new ideas of maritime cooperation. To give an example, at 4th EAS Maritime Security Conference held last year in Chennai, India proposed to prepare a draft handbook on HADR cooperation and a Search and Rescue (SAR) Operation SOP for circulation among the EAS participating countries and the AHA Centre for their views and comments. The draft guidelines for HADR cooperation and SoPs for Search and Rescue (SAR) for Indo-Pacific Region, are in the final stages of preparation and will be circulated to EAS countries for comments shortly.

Friends, as the centre of gravity of global growth is shifting towards this region, so is the focus of related maritime challenges like piracy, smuggling and trafficking, IUU fishing, misuse of marine resources, increase of marine pollutant particularly plastics, etc. All these have increased the urgency of a cooperative and collaborative approach from all EAS participating countries. These issues have been at the heart of discussions under the EAS process which is very well reflected in various EAS Leaders’ Statements and declarations such as EAS Leaders’ Statement on Combating Marine Plastic Debris adopted in November 2018 in Singapore, EAS Leaders’ Statement on Combating the Spread of Illicit Drugs in 2019 in Bangkok, EAS Leaders’ Statement on Marine Sustainability in 2020 in Hanoi to name a few. This Conference provides an ideal platform for all the EAS participating countries to put forward their views of the Maritime Security situation in Indo-Pacific and have an open and free deliberations to take forward the EAS Maritime Security Cooperation Agenda and to seek practical implementation of our Leaders Statements. We are also working with the EAS countries to enhance discussion and deliberations on specific areas of common interest in the maritime domain in the region. India, Australia and Singapore will be jointly organising EAS Workshop on "Marine Pollution especially Marine Plastic Debris” and India and Singapore are jointly organising EAS Workshop on "IUU Fishing”, both in early 2022.

Friends, the Oceans have played an important part in India’s history right from the time of the Indus Valley Civilization. Based on our civilizational ethos that sees the seas as an enabler of shared peace and prosperity, in 2015 Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi put forward the SAGAR Doctrine - an acronym for ‘Security and Growth for all in the Region’. This vision focuses on cooperative measures for sustainable use of the oceans, and provides a framework for a safe, secure, and stable maritime domain in the region. These, together with India’s commitment to UNCLOS and customary law of the seas, provide a direction and a framework for efforts to enhance public good in the broader Indo-Pacific. In August 2021, India, under its presidency of UNSC hosted a High-level Open Debate on ‘Enhancing Maritime Security – A Case for International Cooperation which was chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was the first time that maritime security was discussed in a holistic manner as an exclusive agenda item at the UN. Given that no country alone can address the diverse aspects of maritime security, it was important to consider this subject in a holistic manner at UNSC. A comprehensive approach to Maritime Security should protect and support legitimate maritime activities, while countering traditional and non-traditional threats in the maritime domain. We bring in the same spirit through this conference. As Prime Minister Modi has stated during the UNSC High-level Open debate, the principles remains the same, that is

(a) to have a Safe, Secure and Stable maritime domain and remove barriers from legitimate maritime trade and respect rights of each other’s sailors.

(b) to settle maritime disputes in peaceful manner and on the basis of international law only.

(c) to face natural disasters and maritime threats created by Non-state actors together.

(d) to preserve the maritime environment and maritime resources as oceans have direct impact on climate

(e) to establish responsible maritime connectivity based on the physical sustainability and absorption capacity of the countries

This principles enunciated by PM Modi at UN are very relevant for our region as well and clearly highlight the importance for common and collaborative efforts from all EAS participating countries.

Friends, Covid-19 pandemic still continue to provide the context all over global interactions, the current conference is not an exception to this as it has further added to the non-traditional security challenges in the region. I am happy that EAS participating countries are coming together to mitigate these challenges and make necessary preparations to welcome a sustainable future through various EAS platforms like today’s conference.

I am sure sessions of this 5th EAS conference will actively deliberate on various issues of maritime security cooperation, summarise the discussions of the current conference and prepare a roadmap for enhancing maritime safety and security in the region through proactive cooperation among the EAS countries.

I welcome all the distinguish delegates to the 5th edition of the EAS Conference on Maritime Security Cooperation and wish it a great success.

Thank You !
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