Event Reports |
November 1, 2017

Indian Ocean Conference 2017

The second Indian Ocean Conference was organised at Colombo on 31st August and 1st September 2017 by India Foundation in association with S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore and National Institute of Fundamental Studies, Colombo

31st August 2017

Pre-Conference Symposia on
Peace, Progress and Prosperity

Symposium on Peace

The symposium on peace was chaired by Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, Former C-in-C, Western Naval Command. The speakers were: Mr Rahul Roy Chaudhury, Senior Fellow for South Asia, IISS, London, UK; Mr Frederic Grare, Charge de Mission Asia, Ministry Foreign Affairs, France and Mr Phil Midland, Captain, U.S Navy (Retd.), USA.

Setting the tone for the conference, this session covered the various aspects of maintaining peace in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and was concluded with a consensus amongst the experts that the need of the hour was for the littoral nations to unite with each other against the external factors to fight the menace of piracy, climate change, and cyber terror for peace, progress and prosperity of the region.

Symposium on Progress

The symposium was chaired by Mr. G Parthasarthy, former Ambassador. The speakers  were Mr. Hardeep Singh Puri, Chairman RIS, India; Dr. Patrick French, Dean of School of Arts and Sciences, Ahmedabad, India; Dr. Wang Pu Qu, Dean, Institute of State Governance Studies, Peking University, China and Dr. Jivanta Schottli, Research Fellow, ISAS, Singapore.

The session focused on the varying degrees of development that could be found in the Indian Ocean countries and how most of them are developing states. Mr. Puri termed democracy, respect for rule of law, and connectivity that respects sentiments of local population as the substantive areas that need attention. Dr. Patrick French began by stating the historical role of the Indian Ocean. He reiterated the importance of the region in global history and spoke at length about the cultural linkages that existed amongst the countries in the region. Dr Jivanta Schottli spoke from a South Asian perspective, and problematised the singular conception of progress and development as enshrined in the western model of liberalism. The last speaker Dr. Wang Pu Qu talked of the vision of China, of its role in the region and conveyed the belief of the Chinese premier, Xi Jingping in working towards peace and development.

Mr. G Parthasarathy summing up the session expressed his faith in the realisation of the dream of having an Indian Ocean Region that is a site for all that the three keywords in the theme of the conference.

Symposium on Prosperity

The symposium was chaired by Mr. Ashok Kantha, Director, Institute of Chinese Studies and the speakers were Mr. Sanjeev Sanyal, Mr. Abdullah Salem Hamad Al Harthi, Mr. Ashish Chauhan and Ms. Mariana Jiang.

Mr. Kantha quoted that 80 percent of trade traffic through the Indian Ocean is destined for other regions and that intra IOR trade is only 20 percent. Quoting the number he raised a question of how a truly multilateral cooperation could be created in the IOR. Mr. Sanjeev Sanyal presented a vivid history of the Indian Ocean while Mr. Abdullah Salem Hamad Al Harthi went on to present the Omani view of the Indian Ocean region by placing the Sultanate of Oman within the strategic geography of the Indian Ocean. Mr. Ashish Chauhan emphasised on the role of technology in the development of the region where as Ms. Mariana Jiang presented her views on how China will interact with the IOR.

Inaugural Session

The inaugural session of the second edition of the Indian Ocean Conference was addressed by H.E Mr Vincent Meriton, Vice President, Seychelles; Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister, Sri Lanka; Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Singapore and Smt Sushma Swaraj, External Affairs Minister, India.

Extending gratitude towards India and Sri Lanka, Mr. Vincent Meriton emphasised the importance of conferences like the Indian Ocean Conference, as it presents an opportunity to discuss both problems and solutions facing the IOR. He recognised the fact that when it comes to the IOR, the states form a natural region which is not immune to challenges and must therefore, forge efforts to come together for development. Recognising the importance of the theme ‘Peace, Progress and Prosperity’, he reiterated the need for the countries of the region to counter organised crimes like piracy, cross-border terrorism etc. He also appealed to the countries to contain their territorial disputes in order to enhance peaceful coexistence of states in the region and also build an environment of progress and prosperity in terms of economic diversification of resources, sustainable development, investment and industrial growth, food security in the region, etc

Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe thanked the collaborators who made the Indian Ocean Conference 2017 possible. He greeted all on the optimistic note that Indian Ocean is destined to design the future of the world and that Sri Lanka is determined to play a decisive role in the future of this region. He lauded the Indian government for actively working on regional connectivity in the Indian Ocean, which he said, is also vital for Sri Lanka, both politically and economically. The Prime Minister emphasised the need for sustainable use of the resources in Indian Ocean for the development of all. He also reiterated the commitment of Sri Lanka to cooperate and collaborate with all the members in the region for furthering the prosperity and the security of the region.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan explained the contextual relevance of the budding economy of Singapore by pointing out that it is essential for the development of culture and commerce in the Indian Ocean Region. If one traces the historical trajectories, peace prevailed for most part of the earlier centuries which also exhibit the primordial signs of globalisation in Asia. Raising opposition to immigration, restriction to trade and exchanges, etc. are a consequence of this increased competition. Dr. Balakrishnan thus advocated the need for a diagnosis of these occurrences along with determining solutions to the problems. For instance, skill development among people, utilization of human resources, promotion of the idea of inclusive sustainable growth, etc., can reinstate the level of growth among the states of IOR.

Smt Sushma Swaraj said that the Indian Ocean is one of the busiest and most critical maritime transportation links in the world. Almost a hundred thousand ships a year pass through these waters, carrying about half of the world’s container shipments, one-third of the world’s bulk cargo traffic and two-thirds of the oil shipments. She enunciated Prime Minister’s vision for the IOR and referred to the concept of SAGAR – “Security and Growth for All in the Region”coined by the Prime Minister of India in March 2015. She went on to term it to be a clear, high-level articulation of India’s vision for the Indian Ocean. She talked of the emergence of the ‘Blue Economy’ as a promising new pillar of prosperity in the region, with immense economic and employment potential and spoke of India’s role in it. She concluded her remarks by mentioning some of India’s contributions to disaster relief work. Indian ships were involved in the safe evacuation of over 2,000 Indian expatriates and over 1,300 foreign nationals from Yemen in April 2015. India carried out rescue missions in Libya, Lebanon and Somalia. India has been the “first responder” to calls of assistance.


Special Plenary

The Special Plenary session of the Conference was addressed by Mr Tofail Ahmed, Minister for Commerce, Bangladesh; Mr Tilak Marapana, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lanka; Mr Premdut Koonjoo, Minister of Ocean Economy, Marine Resources, Fishing and Shipping, Mauritius; Mr Iwao Horii, Parliamentary Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Japan and Mr To Anh Dzung, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vietnam.

Mr. Ahmed highlighted the important link between the collective and the individual. He said, “Collective progress and development depends on individual development and prosperity”.  Instating ideas for achieving international peace, the Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Tilak Marapana suggested the need for identifying mutual challenges to development in IOR and responding to it with unity via public-private-partnership. The minister from Mauritius spoke about the threats facing the IOR and Mauritius contribution in the development of this region since the country is heavily reliant on the Ocean for its survival.

Celebrating the second time participation of Japan in the Indian Ocean Conference, the Minister from Japan highlighted the relevance of the venue of the Second Indian Ocean Conference by spelling out the relevance of Sri Lanka in the region. He further spoke of the significance of the values of democracy, freedom and rule of law in bringing prosperity to the region. The Minister from Vietnam spoke of threats to peace such as civil violence, transnational organised crime, poverty – all that can lead to catastrophic consequences.

1st September 2016

Conference Keynote Session

The Keynote Session was chaired by Mr. Prasad Kariyawasam, Foreign Secretary, Sri Lanka and Keynote address was delivered by Mr. S. Jaishankar, Foreign Secretary, India.The session in general focused on reviving the ethos of the Indian Ocean Region. Both the Foreign Secretaries went on to discuss the Challenges in the Indian Ocean: piracy, radicalisation and terrorism in the Ocean littorals, and climate change.

Foreign Secretary of India Dr Jaishankar spelt out the four important areas that India shall focus on in its bid to strengthen the ties of Indian Ocean Region:

  1. a) Hinterland cooperation
  2. b) Maritime cooperation and support
  3. c) South Asia to South east Asia connections
  4. d) Assuming more responsibility – SAGAR vision

Plenary I – Peace

The first plenary session on peace was addressed by Ms Frances Adamson, Foreign Secretary of Australia; Ms Ina Lepel, Director General for Asia and Pacific Foreign Office, Germany and Ms Alice Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of State, USA.

Analysing the expeditious competition amongst greater number of successful societies in the Indo-Pacific region than in the 20th century, Ms. Adamson assessed that the investments made by nation-states in strengthening their economies and developing their military forces have multiplied. She stressed on the importance of the freedom of sea-water navigation lanes, enhancing engagement vis-à-vis energy and oil transportation, developing Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) in the region, etc. to not only improve the relations within IORA but also accentuate the ties with the global economic order.

Extending gratitude towards India Foundation and the Government of Sri Lanka for inviting a German perspective to the platform, Mr. Lepel stated that despite being a consistent contributor in the region, the German position is overlooked by the nation-states in IOR. She spoke of Germany’s interest in the IOR and that the European states have encouraged the ideals of ‘peace, progress and prosperity’ throughout the globe. In conclusion, Ms Lepel said that greater bilateral, regional and multilateral engagements amongst states in these regions would enhance the pre-eminence of the socio-economic and security ties of the participating countries as well.

Reaffirming the positive assistance of America in IOR, Ms. Wells reiterated the importance of this region as a carrier of regional and international trade. Taking examples from Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Act East Policy’ and ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’, Ms. Wells exclaims the importance of realising regional priorities. The Acting Assistant Secretary of State proclaimed US’ desire to support the endeavour of improvement and peaceful development of region in terms of political, economic, cultural and social footing.

Plenary II – Peace

The second plenary on Peace was addressed by Mr Md Shahidul Haque, Foreign Secretary, Bangladesh; Mr Cho Byung Jae, Chancellor, Korea National Diplomatic Academy, South Korea and Dr Siswo Promono, Director General, Policy Analysis and Development Agency, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Indonesia.

Speaking for Bangladesh, Mr Haque expressed the relevance and meaning of peace for the country, which he stated was all about cooperation, building alliances for sustainable development. Further, in the light of the visionary leadership of the Prime minister of Bangladesh, Mr. Haque stated that the country is committed to work towards peace and prosperity of the region. During the course of his speech he spoke of the 2030 development agenda and reiterated Bangladesh’s commitment towards maintaining freedom of navigation in over flight and overseas and bays and also the importance that the country attaches to human security when it speaks of security as a discourse.

Mr. Jae began his address by firmly emphasising upon the relevance of the Indian Ocean for South Asia. He spoke of how the Indian Ocean laid foundation for Korean fisheries, the importance of the IOR for Korea’s global exports and imports, the movement of the global community away from Asia Pacific to Indo Pacific amongst other issues that he touched upon. Dr. Promono speaking of the history of the Indian Ocean region said that war and peace have long been part of the history of Indian Ocean, and touched upon the existence of economic ties since time immemorial and the 2000 years of connectivity and culture, to mention a few. He went on to speak on how from the very beginning the Indian Ocean has been open for navigation and trade and that is very good for the community of the region. In conclusion, the speaker made an appeal to the countries in the region to work towards enhancing the peace building measures and cooperating with each other to address the non-traditional security threats.

Plenary III – Peace

The third session on Peace was addressed by Admiral Jayantha Perera, Former Chief of Naval Staff, Sri Lanka and Maj Gen James S Hartsell, Mobilisation Assistant to the commander, US Pacific Command, USA.

The session highlighted on the importance of the IOR from the perspective of trade and security, laying emphasis on the rule based international system as the primary reason for peace and progress in the region.

Plenary IV – Progress

The session on Progress was chaired by Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Executive Director, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore. The speakers were: Mr Tan Sri Rastam Mohd Isa, Chairman and Chief Executive, Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS), Malaysia; Ms Ayesha Siddiqa, Author, Pakistan and Dr Phongsavath Boupha, Former Minister of Presidential Office, Laos.

Ambassador Ong was of the opinion that the history and culture of a region must be used to improve and modify ties among states. The subjects of a state should be better connected through social media which runs beyond the world of academia. To instil a better sense of identity or belongingness amongst the population of the region, he highlighted the need for higher multilateral and bilateral engagements among the states of the region.

Mr. Isa began his speech with the widely accepted comment for the evening that Progress, which can be secured by Peace in the region is and would be the component of leading Prosperity into the region. The speaker delivered on the possibility of creating a common parliament and a better designed inclusive forum, like that of EU, in order to achieve progress via adopting innovative and transformative policies of collaboration and cooperation among the IOR states.

Ms Ayesha Siddiqa stressed that South Asia is a region that would need the IOR at large to solve numerous issues on poverty, development, food shortage, overall economic development, serious natural calamity, climate change, piracy and other shared problems. She spoke of the increasing global competition and the fact that there is greater need to explore the numerous resources of the sea and harness it for the benefit of people.

Dr Boupha restated the relevance of Indian Ocean – the third largest body of water bounded by Asia, through which 50% regional trade passes through. IOR encompasses 32 countries in all which share historical, economical and cultural relations. The former minister of Laos made an analysis, suggesting that the shift in the development of growth and competition towards the Asian continent, if utilised aptly, can contribute towards peace, progress and prosperity in the region.

Plenary V – Prosperity

The session on Prosperity was addressed by Shri Baijayant Jay Panda, Member of Parliament, India; Mr Ajmal Ahmady, Advisor to President, Afghanistan; Ms Sheikh Noora Bint Khalifa Al Khalifa, Entrepreneur, Bahrain and Mr Ruan Zongze, Executive Vice President, China Institute of International Studies, China.

Mr. Panda, tracing the trajectory of globalisation, said that the leading powers that brought globalization about were not looking at a zero sum game arrangement. He spoke of the vast and tremendous range of the IOR, which reflect immense potential of those states that have been lagging behind on this range in the region. The five issues that he highlighted in his address were: connectivity, identity, disputes, terrorism and climate and further stated that trade is interlinked to all these issues. Mr. Panda emphasised the need to build an “Indian Ocean Brand” to achieve the target of a better future.

Mr. Ahmady expressed the concerns that plague Afghanistan. He spoke of the many challenges that the country faces including insufficient growth rate and the structural imbalances that hamper the development. Ms. Sheikha’s address to the conference was primarily focused upon the relevance of ‘blue economy’ in the exchanges between the east and the west. She spoke of the relevance of the deep waters for the countries of the region and also expressed concerns about the need to ensure maritime security, as it is an important factor for the coastal states in the region. She also lauded India for actively engaging with the countries in the region.

Dr. Zongze traced the historical connection of China with the IOR. He spoke of the ties between China and the region in the spheres of history, culture, religion, trade and economics. Further, Dr Zongze argued the case for China being a country of the IOR, contrary to the perception otherwise.

Valedictory Session

Addressing the Valedictory Session of the two days Conference in Colombo, Sri Lankan President Mr. Sirisena said that Indian Ocean plays a vital role in the international economy, international security, sharing of new technology and modern naval activities while facilitating the strengthening of bilateral economic and trade relations between almost all countries in the world.

Talking of peace in the region he said that peace among different nations, reconciliation among nations, brotherhood and security at international level are of paramount importance and reiterated the Sri Lankan government’s commitment to peace. He went on to recall Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s proposal to the United Nations General Assembly to declare the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace. He spoke of Sri Lanka’s geographic location in the center of the ocean to be of strategic importance to the region and described it as a focal point that can promote and strengthen the sharing of modern technology, trade and maritime navigation.

(This article is carried in the print edition of November-December 2017 issue of India Foundation Journal.)

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