It is in this context that I wish to underline that we see ASEAN as central to the regional maritime architecture. This was recognised 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).
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.
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.
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.
The first part is our focus on developing hinterland linkages & regional connectivity. Under 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.
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. 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.
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.
Edited excerpts from remarks made by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj at the 3rd Indian Ocean Conference, Vietnam, August 27