Colombo, September 1 (newsin.asia): The Indian Foreign Secretary, S.Jaishankar, has stressed the need for Indian Ocean littoral countries to make “mature choices” when joining internaional connectivity projects which are on offer.
Addressing the Second Indian Ocean Conference here on Friday, Jaishankar said: “ There are today various approaches and initiatives that offer choices to the nations of this region. Many would understandably like to make the best of all these opportunities. But the experiences of the last decade underline the importance of making mature and considered decisions in this regard.”
“There is a growing understanding that following universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, transparency, openness and equality are essential for better outcomes. Even more critical is observing principles of financial responsibility, ensuring transfer of technology and promoting a sense of local ownership,” he said.
The unstated reference was clearly to China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) project which many countries in the Indian Ocean region have joined while India has stayed out saying that the project lacks responsibility and transparency.
Elucidating India’s approach to connectivity, Jaishankar said that it is people oriented, democratic and therefore, sustainable.
“India’ initiatives are people-centric. Its projects are likely to be more sustainable. While we tend to think of connectivity in physical terms, let us not forget that it has its softer aspects that are actually no less important. People-to-people contacts, religious travel and exchanges, heritage conservation and cultural promotion are all enabling factors that can contribute to a greater sense of bonding among societies,” he said.
“It is, therefore, essential that we approach the connectivity challenge with a holistic perspective – community centered and not transactional – that has a purpose of common good as its primary driving force,” Jaishankar stressed.
Giving the parameters of India’s projects in the region, the Foreign Secretary said: “India’s particular contribution to the prospects of the Indian Ocean region can be subsumed under the following headings: (a) hinterland linkages and strengthening regionalism (b) maritime contributions and support (c) linking South Asia to South East Asia through an Act East policy and to the Gulf through a Think West approach, and (d) assume larger responsibilities as a net security provider with an integrated approach, reflected in the SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) vision.”
“ Each of these aspects is by now sufficiently advanced to be appreciated by those who have an interest in this region’s future,” he added.
“India will be guided by the development and security priorities of its partners and our approach will focus on the big picture, rather than be driven by narrower reciprocal considerations,” he assured.
“The Indian Ocean is about people. It must be approached with empathy, not as a business. It must be treated as a partner, not as an arena. The goal must be inter-dependence, not dominance,” Jaishankar underlined.
Need to Re-develop Indian Ocean Ethos
The ranking Indian official made an impassioned plea to restore to the Indian Ocean and its littoral, their historical ethos marked by co-existence, adjustment, pluralism and syncretism.
The Indian Ocean had lost its coherence due to the entry of the colonial powers who reordered the system here drastically. But the Colonial era also introduced liberalism, which was a gain.
“The colonial era did much damage to this ocean community. But it did leave some good behind in institutions, practices and values that today are naturally supportive of international norms and rule of law,” the Foreign Secretary said.
“Therefore, is that history – both ancient and more recent – provides the foundation to build a more contemporary region with its own personality,” he submitted.
And the grounds for the revival of an Indian Ocean identity have emerged, he added.
“To begin with, the littoral countries have generally developed strongly in the last few decades, with higher economic growth, better social indices, greater political influence and more confident postures. Together, they have lifted the overall region to greater prominence in world affairs. It is their aggregate national development, when combined with the progress of East Asia, that has led to the resurgence of Asia in global politics.”
“The practical consequences of this growth have been a very marked increase – both from the demand and supply side – of goods and commodities through the Indian Ocean. As a result, the Ocean may well be on track to reclaim its historical reputation as the world’s primary economic highway,” the Indian Foreign Secretary said.
But there are challenges to be faced, he warned. “It is rare for opportunities and benefits to come without challenges or responsibilities and the Indian Ocean is no exception. We have already seen greater threats of piracy at its extremities. There are other factors that could also impede the regular flow of commerce. The Ocean and its littorals are particularly vulnerable to the threats of radicalization and terrorism.”
“They are also feeling the consequences of climate change while being susceptible to pandemics. It is evident that responses must come from the neighborhood itself. Today, we cannot realistically expect that distant societies that are increasingly engrossed in themselves would react to emergency situations far away. This is an era of dispersed power arrangements that call for self-help and burden sharing. The Indian Ocean, like many other regions, must find more solutions within,” he said.
Need to Abide by UNCLOS
“Stability and order cannot be left to capability to enforce an order. It must be tempered by the discipline of law, in this case respect for UNCLOS, which was recognized by IORA as the constitution for the oceans. Freedom of navigation and over flight must be a given,” Jaishankar said in a veiled reference to China which is challenging the existing maritime rules.
The Indian Ocean Region boasts of established regional organizations, foremost among them being the ASEAN. The GCC in the Gulf, SADC in Africa or the BIMSTEC in Bay of Bengal can each make their contribution felt towards a larger cause. In fact, it could even be contemplated that larger global organizations like the Commonwealth could collaborate to strengthen capacities in the Indian Ocean region.
Another promising avenue of exploration are initiatives like the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) whose vision document was unveiled at the recent meeting of the African Development Bank, or the International North-South Transport Corridor that promises to reduce transit time and costs to Europe. Connecting these many dots and lines to create a greater sense of coherence is a growing necessity,” Jaishankar said.
(The featured picture at the top shows Indian Foreign Secretary S.Jaishnkar)