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Secretary (ER&DPA)'s address at the first Indian Ocean Dialogue held under the Indian Ocean Rim Association [IORA] at Kochi

September 06, 2014

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you all for the first meeting of the Indian Ocean Dialogue in this beautiful city of Kochi. I also extend a warm welcome to the Foreign Secretary of Somalia, H.E. Mr. Abdulahi Dool, who is here with us, as a special guest.

This city, that has a rich history as a confluence of cultures living together in harmony, is perhaps India’s foremost tourist destination. I hope that ORF gives you enough time to go out of this meeting room and see the city, its surroundings and its rich history and heritage. These are attributes which reflect, concretely, some of the features most salient about the Indian Ocean.

I would also like to express warm appreciation for the hard work ORF has put in in preparing for this Dialogue.

While the Indian Ocean Rim Association – IORA - includes an IOR Academic Group at Track 1.5 to take forward cooperation in Science & Technology, Disaster Management, Fisheries, etc., it was felt that a stand alone Dialogue - as a more open and free-flowing forum - bringing together scholars and government officials - in other words policy analysts of all varieties - on a single platform would help deepen discussions on the geostrategic significance of the Indian Ocean region.

It is in this context that there is a felt need to firstly identify and then address the very real challenges in the region which range from maritime security to the cross-cutting issues that have a global impact. It is possible in a group and setting such as this to explore the dimensions of the problematics and of some concrete areas for cooperative action such as capacity building for disaster risk management, and enhanced regional cooperation broadly. In this spirit that India took the initiative to host this first Indian Ocean Dialogue and I emphasize the word first, as we hope this will not be a one-off event.

The Indian Ocean and littoral have been at the centre of some of the oldest civilizations and indeed of recorded history. With sustained economic growth in the countries on the littoral of the Indian Ocean, this region has assumed greater salience in all realms including strategic, defence, political, economic, cultural and so forth. The growing need for raw materials for minerals and other natural resources including the energy to fuel development in the countries in the region, has given an added strategic perspective to the trade that traverses the Indian Ocean. The comparatively faster pace of economic activity in Asia which encompasses enhanced flows of labour, of goods, and of capital has also contributed to the shift of global focus towards the Indian Ocean.

On the other hand, at the same time, the Indian Ocean region is confronted with the threat of piracy and other maritime security challenges, including the imperative need for protection of Sea Lines of Communication that today include ensuring global broadband connectivity through undersea cables. Non-traditional maritime issues in the Indian Ocean region such as the imminence of forced migration due to rising sea levels and polluted sea water, growing desertification – most notably in East Africa - but a problem elsewhere too, leading to food shortages; fish stock depletion in the Indian Ocean due to poor monitoring and over-fishing are increasingly very real concerns.

The dilemmas at hand are many, and include managing the shift in power equations as well as the shadow of other security challenges including terrorism, radicalism, piracy and several non-traditional security threats that have a direct bearing on peace and stability in the IOR. The transnational nature of these challenges necessitates ideally a collective and multilateral approach, and certainly at the very least coordination and congruence of approaches.

Vulnerabilities from the sea take many forms and having direct experience of these, India has been particularly concerned with the problem of piracy. We have been engaged actively in addressing this at several levels and have joined various multilateral mechanisms aimed at this scourge that bedevils the region.

Our Navy has been active in this space. India has been convening the biennial Milan exercises in the Bay of Bengal since 1995. The Milan format today draws participation from across the Indian Ocean. The Indian Navy has also been convening meetings of the all the Chiefs of Navies from Indian Ocean littoral countries for exchanges under the rubric of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium which started in 2008.

From India’s perspective, equally important are issues related to economic development and trade. When we see that trade in the region as a whole is growing, the need to address the bottlenecks resulting from inadequate connectivity and support infrastructure becomes the more pressing; it is this mismatch that prevents the region from realising its full potential. While discussing issues related to trade, we must also emphasize the importance of inclusion that would take the whole region along.

When IORA was established in 1997 (it was IORARC then) its primary focus was on economic cooperation - to promote sustained growth and balanced development of the region and of its Member States, and to create common ground for regional economic cooperation. As it has evolved IORA is envisioned as a regional body that can respond effectively to regional needs of course and also enhance the individual capacities of Member-States to deal with the challenges of sustainable and balanced development in a common maritime domain.

The membership of IORA brings together countries from three continents by the waters of the Indian Ocean. To create an enabling international environment for sustainable development, IORA has an indispensable role and stake in promoting global public goods like peace, freedom of the seas and open sea lanes.

IORA provides an effective multilateral platform that facilitates realization of untapped opportunities for prosperity, peace and development of the region. The growing number of IORA Members and of Dialogue Partners testifies to that potential and to IORA as the apex body in the region.

The geo-political contours of the Indian Ocean region are challenging, are dynamic and are crucial to the prosperity of the countries of this region. Therefore, a Dialogue, such as the Indian Ocean Dialogue, among those most closely involved – the stakeholders - who understand the challenges and the promise of cooperative mechanisms in the Indian Ocean region is an urgent need. Through this Dialogue we hope to build greater synergy with the aim of tapping that full potential to enhance our preparedness for addressing these challenges.

I hope that the Indian Ocean Dialogue that we are initiating today would serve as a valued and productive platform for the exchange of ideas, concerns and experiences of IORA Member States and would help evolve a common understanding to address challenges in the region. In fact, going a step further, the Dialogue should help evolve a common IORA perspective to deal with these challenges effectively.

The Dialogue may be crystallized into a brief Report as an outcome which we will share with other IORA members and Dialogue Partners at the forthcoming IORA Council of Ministers meetings in Perth in October 2014. If the idea appeals, the Report may be called ‘the Kochi Consensus’.

Once again I thank the Observer Research Foundation for shouldering the responsibility of convening this first Indian Ocean Dialogue.

I look forward to substantive and fruitful discussions ahead. I also wish a pleasant and memorable stay in Kochi to all our guests.

Thank You.


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