2nd Indian Ocean Conference themed ‘Peace, Progress & Prosperity’ held in Colombo

Tuesday, 5 September 2017 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Aaditya Tiwari and Deeksha Goel

The second Indian Ocean Conference, which recently concluded in Colombo, brought together the stakeholders of this region together on one platform so that there is discussion and collaboration on how to achieve peace, progress and prosperity. This is all the more evident from the comments made on day one by leaders of the various nations. 

Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj spoke of India’s role in fostering peace and prosperity while Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan spoke of going back to the ancient philosophy of the Indian Ocean Region, which is to embrace interdependence. 

Seychelles’ Vice President Vincent Meriton highlighted four chief pillars of their Blue Ocean Program, namely safety and security, economic diversification, food security and sustainable management of maritime environment. 

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that trade and connectivity were central to maintaining high regional growth rate. He also talked of maintaining freedom of navigation in the region. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also highlighted the importance India pays to the Indian Ocean region by referring it to as a ‘strategic bridge with the nations in our immediate and extended maritime neighbourhood’. 

The two-day conference paved a path for the countries of the region to take the road towards development, sustainability and amity amongst the larger population of the region. The coming together of 300 delegates from over 40 countries of the region under one roof brought the focus of dispensations around the world to the ripples originating in the usually calm waters of the ocean. 


Global world order today 

The global world order today has shifted from being unipolar to multi-polar. We have moved from a world dominated by Pacific-Atlantic nations to Indo-Pacific nations. Asia has emerged from the darkness of colonialism. 

Around 45% of the world’s population lives here. Half of the world’s container traffic and one-third of bulk cargo traverses the Indian Ocean. Around 40% of the world’s offshore oil production comes from the Indian Ocean. Nearly half of the world’s energy supplies takes place through this region. 

Asia’s defence spending is now larger than Europe’s. Asian powers are now marching to rebalance the World Order 2.0 and Indian Ocean is integral to this rise. Half of the world’s submarines will be seen roaming around in the Indo-Pacific region in the next two decades. In the same period, at least half of the world’s advanced combat aircraft armed with extended range missiles will be operated by countries in the Indo-Pacific belt.

A study by Australia indicates that: “Over the next two decades, other technological advances such as quantum computing, innovative manufacturing, hypersonics, energy weapons and unmanned systems are likely to lead to the introduction of new weapons into our region. The next 20 years will see the continuing expansion of space-based and space-enabled capabilities, including military capabilities.”

Cultural and civilisational linkages

The Indian Ocean Region has for the time immemorial fostered cultural and civilisational linkages, which has helped develop trade in this region. The region has significant endowments of strategic natural resources along with tremendous ecological and human diversity. 

The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) cuts across a vast span of territory that directly affects the global economy. The countries in the IOR are for the most part developing countries, each with its own set of unique opportunities and challenges. There are differences in polity, the quality of governance, ethnic diversity and the pace of economic growth. 

There are forums like the ASEAN and BIMSTEC which foster regional peace and cooperation. Simultaneously there are also nations that are challenging territorial integrity and a rule-based order. Poverty, lack of jobs and the possibility of conflict are issues that constantly trouble the leaders and law-makers of these nations. Peace is hence a vital condition for progress, which in turn can lead to collective prosperity.

The Indian Ocean region has a vast potential and many commonalities. It is for the countries of this region to decide the trajectory they wish for their future generations and Indian Ocean Conference is one significant attempt of the India Foundation towards that end. 

Rabindranath Tagore, who has contributed to the National Anthems of India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, said of the ocean: “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” We need to work together for a rule-based order that allows each country its economic growth and brings in peace and prosperity. 

(The writers are Senior Research Fellows at the Delhi-based think tank, India Foundation.)