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EAM’s remarks at CII Partnership Summit 2020

Posted on: January 12, 2021 | Back | Print

December 17, 2020

  • It is a great pleasure to join you all this afternoon. I have been asked to speak about the Indo-Pacific, a concept that has recently gained greater salience in diplomatic parlance. But this is a business gathering and my effort today would be to convince all of you why the Indo-Pacific matters in your life as well. In doing so, I expect to set at rest some of the misconceptions in that regard. Hopefully, that would contribute to an even wider understanding of an approach that has been gathering increasing traction in recent days.

  • What is Indo-Pacific really about? Literally, it signifies the confluence of the Indian and the Pacific Oceans that can no longer be handled as distinct spheres. We are speaking of a maritime space that connects Africa, Asia, Eurasia’s Pacific Coast, Oceania and the Pacific Coast of the Americas. Over 50% of global trade traverses this maritime domain. It is also home to over 64% of the world’s population and 62% of the global GDP. And obviously, the security, stability, peace and prosperity of this vast region is vital for the world.

  • Why then are we looking at it in a joint rather than separate manner? It is always tempting to speak of grand strategy and nuanced diplomatic signaling. The truth, however, is far more prosaic. Whether it is the yardsticks of trade and investment, connectivity and travel, or politics and security, what begins in the Pacific no longer ends there and the same holds true for the Indian Ocean. In essence, the landscape, capabilities and activities are now different. Every nation and region would have its own version of this reality. But I can speak for India and say this: it captures a mix of our broadening horizons, widening interests, and globalized activities. Many would agree with us; others could offer additional justification. Indo-Pacific, for some, can also be resource optimization in an enlarged arena. Or just a desire to contribute better to global challenges that now transcend old boundaries. Many have also chosen in that process to reaffirm basic principles like rule of law. What is worth recognizing however is that analysis lags behind developments: as I have said before, Indo-Pacific is not tomorrow’s forecast but yesterday’s reality.

  • This change actually reflects a regional manifestation of larger global trends. As societies have got more globalized and the power distribution rebalanced, the interests of many now extend beyond their near proximity. This trend has been particularly strong in Asia, which has been at the heart of a new economic resurgence. Whether viewed from the perspective of resources, endeavours or challenges, it is, therefore, no longer realistic to confine our thinking within the earlier box. Doing so would either mean we are being deliberately outdated; or that we have chosen to make only selective exceptions. Neither, of course, suits India, or indeed much of the international community. Denying Indo-Pacific is tantamount to refuting globalization.

  • Who owns the Indo-Pacific as a concept is a debate in itself. There is as much history there, as a diversity of opinions. The fact is that pretty much everyone who recognizes how important the understanding of Indo-Pacific has become to their lives has a point of view. The contemporary record shows that India and Japan were early movers; Australia and the US somewhat later; the ASEAN announced its approach last year; others in Asia have joined in as well; France, Germany and The Netherlands have recently enunciated their official policies; and I just heard from the British Foreign Secretary about their Indo-Pacific tilt. In that sense, it is a truly pluralistic exercise on the importance of a theatre with the resulting ideas about its future. This active debate should be treated as a recognition of reality and statement of priority. Quite appropriately, much of it revolves around the ASEAN, whose East Asia Summit initiative has long had its own Indo-Pacific connotations.

  • How does it now unfold? Given that this region is primarily a maritime space, countries are naturally focused on building practical cooperation in that domain. A safe, secure and stable maritime space is a necessary condition for peace, security and prosperity. Conversely, threats there imperil human security in all its dimensions, whether by disrupting commerce, disturbing the ecology, or creating disputes over ownership and rights. In our inter-dependent world, the complexity of such challenges has become too large for any one nation to address by itself. Indeed, the very vastness of this arena brings out why the need for collaborative action has now become so pressing. Naturally, the individual interests of countries are at stake; but so too is their collective benefit in ensuring that the global commons is better secured. It is the challenge of harmonizing these pulls and pressures that the Indo-Pacific policy of all players needs to address.

  • Most of us at this Summit would intuitively appreciate why India needs to give the Indo-Pacific its fullest attention. They will recall that the era of reform began with the Look East policy and extension of our activities to the ASEAN. They would also remember that in due course, this paved the way to a more intensive engagement with East Asia and Oceania. It took but a few years for more of India’s trade to be conducted eastwards rather than westwards. To the change of direction was added additional facets of cooperation, ranging from connectivity to security. The Look East, thereby, became Act East. And it kept growing. We are now reaching out to the Pacific Coast of the US and Canada, just as we do more to Latin America. Our engagement with the Pacific Islands has become serious. So, far from it being an arcane issue of international relations, the Indo-Pacific is actually a bread-and-butter expression of our political, economic, connectivity, travel and societal interests. And it relies heavily on ensuring the safety and security of the maritime domain.

  • To give that a practical shape, India proposed an Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative (IPOI) at the East Asia Summit in November 2019. The IPOI is aimed at furthering practical cooperation as an open, non-treaty-based global initiative. It has seven pillars that address different aspects of the challenges that the international community faces. They range from Maritime Security, Maritime Ecology, Maritime Resources, Capacity Building and Resource Sharing to Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, Science, Technology and Academic Cooperation and finally Trade, Connectivity and Maritime Transport. The IPOI is an inclusive and open initiative, seeking to better manage, conserve, sustain and secure the maritime domain. It does not envisage creating a new institutional framework and will rely on ASEAN-led EAS framework (though not necessarily limited to it). Think of it as a lowest common denominator approach to shared problems that we all know require urgent and coordinated solutions.

  • While India will be the driving force behind all areas identified under the IPOI, we are also exploring partnerships with like-minded countries. Since the announcement of the IPOI in November 2019, Australia, Japan and ASEAN Member states have all expressed willingness to work with India on these areas. In fact, Australia and Japan have agreed to lead on IPOI pillars on Maritime Ecology and Connectivity respectively. Given India’s inherent strengths in the Indian Ocean region, we are keen to take the lead in Disaster Risk Reduction and Maritime Security.

  • India has been the first responder for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) in this region, especially since 2015. It has been a regular effort, sometimes to more than one country annually. Providing Covid relief to Maldives, Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles, as also to the Pacific Islands is the latest in that line.

  • India co-chairs ADMM Plus Expert Working Group on HADR with Indonesia and is presently the lead country for Disaster Risk management in Indian Ocean Rim Association. We have a Tsunami Early Warning System in the Indian Ocean through which are currently providing information to countries in the region. This system is run by the National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) located in Hyderabad. We are also the prime mover in the creation of Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), announced by PM Modi at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit. It aims to promote disaster-resilient infrastructure through research and knowledge sharing in the fields of infrastructure risk management, standards, financing, and recovery mechanisms. We have also taken the lead in evolving common Guidelines on HADR and common SOPs for Search and Rescue in the Indo-Pacific Region. We are currently finalizing the Guidelines on HADR cooperation within IORA and are working on evolving similar guidelines within EAS.

  • When it comes to Maritime Security, here too, we have been promoting plurilateral/multilateral cooperation against non-traditional security challenges, including transnational crimes, piracy, drugs& arms smuggling and human trafficking. This area also addresses traditional domains of security starting with Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), Long Range Identification and Tracking of ships etc.

  • In fact, India has been taking the lead in organizing Maritime Security Cooperation Conferences under the East Asia Summit. The 4th such conference was held in Chennai in February this year in partnership with Australia and Indonesia. India is an active participant in the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia. We have maintained deployment of ships for maritime security and anti-piracy operations in Western Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden since 2008 and Gulf of Oman since 2019. They have helped greatly in addressing these threats. And reducing insurance costs.

  • We have also been at the forefront in promoting maritime safety and security. Participating in plurilateral and bilateral exercises, both by the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard for several years have helped build confidence, achieve interoperability and evolve common SOPs. We have been leading the efforts in the region to promote White Shipping Information Exchange through an Information Fusion Centre at Gurugram. Several countries with have already joined this effort and more are keen on joining. India’s Maritime Domain Awareness initiatives have strengthened capabilities of several countries in the region. We have also assisted countries with Hydrographic survey support for charting of waters; many more are interested.

  • Despite our best efforts, India does not have the capacities to lead cooperation efforts across all the seven pillars. It is with this view that we are actively trying to seek partnerships with like-minded countries.

  • The Maritime Ecology pillar is a case in point. This is a critical area wherein we are trying to protect the marine environment, including finding technology-based solutions to pollution and combating in particular plastic marine litter, ocean acidification and oxygen depletion.

  • Most recently in August 2020, India sent Coast Guard teams and equipment to Mauritius to fight an oil spill that caused an environmental emergency. Other countries helped too. I mention this to highlight the need for regional cooperation in such emergencies.

  • We are particularly glad that Australia has agreed to lead cooperation in this on the Maritime Ecology Pillar of the IPOI. India and Australia will together host an EAS Conference on combating Marine Pollution & Marine Plastic Debris sometime next year which will bring together the larger EAS community. India is also part of the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem (BOBLME) Project to seeks improve lives of coastal populations and regional management of Bay of Bengal environment and its fisheries.

  • Another important focus is on Marine Resources. This involves conservation activities including sustainable management of fish stocks, preservation of species diversity, action against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, conservation of Maritime Protected Areas and ensuring sustainable exploitation of seabed resources. IUU fishing in particular has emerged as an important issue and there is a need to address this through a regional framework of cooperation. India has undertaken to organize an EAS Conference in that regard.

  • India has also been providing training through the International Training Centre for Operational Oceanography which is a UNESCO designated category 2 centre at the National Centre for Ocean Information Services. In addition, three ASEAN-India Workshops on Blue Economy have been held so far. This is a platform for ASEAN-India expert level discussions on developments in blue economy, sustainable harnessing of marine resources, maritime connectivity and maritime safety.

  • Two other pillars we have identified under the IPOI are of Capacity Building and Resource Sharing and Science, Technology and Academic Cooperation.

  • Under them, there is a need to achieve coordinated efforts to help increase capacity of Small Island States in the Indo-Pacific to safeguard their own EEZs and their resources. This could include training of Coast Guard and maritime security officials, developing legal skills, building capacity in maritime trade controls, handling fiscal tools, prepare for the Blue Economy, providing Fishing Zone Advisories and ocean state forecasts, developing mitigation strategies to deal with Sea Level Rise, etc.

  • Cooperative studies in weather mapping, the precipitation cycle, ocean currents, migratory maritime species; marine water quality degradation and sea level rise have become increasingly important. After all, global weather patterns are significantly determined by the maritime domain. Practical cooperation in these areas would be of great utility to the region.

  • That brings me to the seventh and the last pillar of IPOI which is Trade, Connectivity and Maritime Transport. The importance of this pillar needs little reiteration at this gathering.

  • We have been working to realize greater connectivity in the region in the fullest sense. Our approach is, of course, consultative, viability-driven and partner based. It includes roads, shipping lines, ports, air connections and also digital. These are real opportunities for Indian companies. We have announced US$ 1 billion Line of Credit for connectivity projects in ASEAN. Projects to utilize it are under discussion.
  • India is currently pursuing the Trilateral Highway project connecting India-Myanmar-Thailand and also looking to extend it eastward towards Vietnam. We are also working on the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project (KMTTP) that provides connectivity to Sittwe in Myanmar. Their completion will change the distance to South East Asia.
  • We are now looking to build connectivity between Andaman & Nicobar and Aceh in Indonesia, focused on Sabang. Announced in 2018, it is currently work in progress. Connectivity between Ranong port in Thailand and Vishakhapattanam, Chennai and Kolkata is also being explored. Relevant MoUs were signed in August 2019.

  • On the other coast, India and Maldives are working to operationalize a cargo ferry service. We are also looking to build other infrastructure and connectivity projects in Male under GOI Lines of Credit. Our infrastructure partnership with Sri Lanka is also under upgradation and we are also exploring third country cooperation with Japan on projects there.

  • As for trade, the Indo-Pacific is obviously central to both our exports and imports. We have a number of FTAs in place, but chose not to join the RCEP after weighing the pros and cons carefully. The focus today is in attracting more investments and technology partnerships as part of Atmanirbhar Bharat. The PLI schemes could make a big difference there, as indeed our continuous efforts at making it easier to do business.

  • Overall, the cumulative impact of activities under these pillars bring out how much more we count in the world today. In this situation, we will be judged by what we can deliver, on the ground and on the seas. If our footprint is increasing, our responsibilities are also growing. They are taking us on new journeys to more destinations. They are also changing the manner in which we engage others. The Indo-Pacific speaks as much for the changes in the world as in our own aspirations. It reflects a New India and I thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts.
New Delhi
December 17, 2020

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