IOR defence conclave brings together 26 out of 28 littoral states
08 February 2021
The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) Defence Ministers’ Conclave discussed issues such as deepening economic and security cooperation among the littoral states, enhancing capacities to safeguard land and maritime territories and working towards sustainable regional development.
The conclave that took place on the sidelines of the ongoing Aero India Show, on Thursday, saw participation of 26 of the 28 littoral states in the Indian Ocean Region. Several defence ministers, ambassadors, high commissioners and senior officials from IOR countries attended the event physically or in virtual mode.
In his keynote address, India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh said India, as the largest nation in the IOR region with a vast coast line of 7,500 km, has an active role to play for peaceful and prosperous co-existence of all countries. Singh stressed that the Indian Ocean is a shared asset and a lifeline to international trade and transport due to its control of major sea-lanes carrying half of the world’s container ships, one third of the world’s bulk cargo traffic and two thirds of the world’s oil shipments.
Rajnath Singh stressed on India’s Indian Ocean policy - Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) - as outlined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015. He added the IOR conclave should focus on security, commerce, connectivity, fight against terrorism and inter cultural exchanges.
Rajnath Singh identified areas such as deepening economic and security cooperation in the littorals, enhancing capacities to safeguard land and maritime territories, working towards sustainable regional development, Blue Economy, including sustainable and regulated fishing, and promoting collective action to deal with non-traditional threats like natural disasters, piracy, terrorism, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing etc as inter-related elements of SAGAR.
He said IOR faces a number of challenges such as piracy, smuggling of drugs/people and arms, humanitarian and disaster relief, and search and rescue (SAR), which can be met through maritime co-operation.
Singh identified maritime resources as the key to sustained growth and development of IOR nations in the 21st century. He said that the negative impact of conflicting claims in some maritime areas of the world highlighted the need to ensure peace in the IOR region. IOR countries, he said, have demonstrated mutual respect for a rule-based order and commitment to abide by international law.
He spoke of the various policy initiatives of the government to promote trade and tourism among IOR countries through sea link Sagarmala, Project Mausam, and Asia Africa Growth Corridor etc. He emphasised the need to take economic, trade, naval cooperation and collaboration further in the region. He said that the linked futures of IOR countries depend on how they tackle emerging challenges and leverage opportunities.
Referring to India’s growing aerospace and defence sector and its emergence as a global R&D hub with one of the world’s largest start-up ecosystems, Rajnath Singh said IOR countries can leverage these sectors for mutual benefit. He said the recent order from the Indian Air Force to buy 83 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas Mk-1A from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is a milestone in India’s indigenisation of defence manufacturing capabilities. India, he said, is ready to supply various types of weapon systems to IOR countries. Rajnath Singh said that in consonance with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of SAGAR, `Neighbourhood First’ and `Act East’ policies, India has adopted a cooperative approach through capacity building assistance in partner countries. This was reflected in India’s supply of India-made ships, maritime aircraft and setting up of Coastal Surveillance Radar Systems, he said.
Singh said India is in the process of developing a comprehensive Maritime Domain Awareness picture in the IOR, which has resulted in signing of technical agreements for sharing of ‘White Shipping Information’. Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), Non-combatant Evacuation (NEO), and Search and Rescue (SAR) Operations are important, he said, even as he highlighted India’s swift response during the cyclones in Mozambique and Madagascar and reaching out to countries through medical teams and medicines through Operation-Sagar-I during Covid crisis. He further said that Op-SAGAR-II saw over 300 tonnes of humanitarian aid being delivered to four nations in the IOR.
Rajnath Singh said that vaccine supplies under grant assistance to Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles have already highlighted India’s commitment to protect humanity from COVID-19. He said that India was conducting training programmes for immunization managers, cold chain officers, communication officers and data managers of the recipient countries before delivery of the vaccines. He highlighted development of effective response mechanism to humanitarian crisis and natural disasters in the IOR region as one of the most visible element of India’s Indian Ocean strategy.
He said India’s approach and vision to tackle global challenges was highlighted by Prime Minister Modi’s dynamic `Five-S’ vision - Samman (Respect), Samvaad (Dialogue), Sahyog (Cooperation), Shanti (Peace) and Samriddhi (Prosperity).
Rajnath Singh said the conclave showcased what the IOR nations were capable of achieving in terms of trade, security and facilitation, fighting non-traditional threats, promoting uninterrupted access to the open seas. He emphasised that easy uninterrupted access to the open seas and respect for the international law was essential for stability and security in the region. He ended his address by saying that he hoped that the ideas generated at the conclave would lead to sustainable action and partnerships.