India on Thursday called for a peaceful, stable and secure Indian Ocean with its waters free of any traditional and non-traditional threats.
Speaking at the inaugural session of the two-day Second Indian Ocean Conference in Colombo, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s concept of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) is a “clear, high-level articulation of India’s vision for the Indian Ocean”.
“But most of all, for the Indian Ocean economic revival to be sustainable, the waters must not only be better connected but they should remain free from non-traditional and traditional threats that could impede the seamless movement of goods, people and ideas,” she said.
“Security is fundamental to the SAGAR vision. If the revitalised maritime economy of the Indian Ocean region is to be a force for global economic growth in the coming years, it is essential that the waters remain peaceful, stable and secure.”
This year’s Indian Ocean Conference, after the first edition in Singapore in September last year, is being jointly organised by the India Foundation, the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Singapore, and the National Institute of Fundamental Studies (NIFS), Colombo, with the theme “Peace, Progress and Prosperity”. Over 35 countries are participating in the event.
Sushma Swaraj said that the the economies of many of the Indian Ocean littoral countries depend heavily on the ports, the shipping and the vast natural resources that enrich these waters with an abundance of marine life.
“For India, of course, the Indian Ocean is of vital importance – we have an extensive coastline of 7,500 km and several hundred islands between Lakshadweep in the west and the Andaman and Nicobar islands in the east,” she said.
“Our southernmost tip is just 90 nautical miles from Indonesia. Our Exclusive Economic Zone is 2.4 million square km and 90 per cent of our trade by volume and almost all of our oil imports come through the sea. Clearly, it is but natural that India’s role as the key pivot in the Indian Ocean region is a given, not only geographically but by virtue of a shared historical and cultural heritage that binds us all across these waters.”
The Indian External Affairs Minister said the principles enshrined in SAGAR provide for a coherent framework to address some of the challenges relating to economic revival, connectivity, security, culture and identity, and India’s own evolving approach to these issues.
“The challenge before us is to ensure intra-ocean trade and investment, and the sustainable harnessing of the wealth of the seas, including food, medicines and clean energy,” she stated.
She referred to the emergence of the Blue Economy and said that it was “a promising new pillar of prosperity in the region, with immense economic and employment potential”.
“We are already engaging our neighbours in Blue Economy initiatives, particularly in the areas of marine bio-technology, exploration and sustainable exploitation of ocean mineral resources, sustainable fishing practices, and harnessing of ocean energy.”
Sushma Swaraj said that India was implementing targeted programmes for re-energising economic activity in its islands and coastal areas.
“There is also a renewed focus on strengthening marine research, developing eco-friendly marine industrial technologies, promoting sustainable fisheries and, ensuring the protection of the maritime environment,” she stated.
“We remain committed to extending port connectivity among the littoral states of the Indian Ocean and beyond. This is the objective behind the Sagarmala initiative, which aims to establish new ports and modernise old ones.”
Stating that connectivity was one of the major themes of India’s Neighbourhood First policy, Sushma Swaraj said: “We continue to work on a range of projects to improve maritime logistics in Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles. Our other initiatives include the Kaladan transport project leading to Sittwe port in Myanmar; the Trilateral Highway to Thailand; and, the Chabahar port project in Iran.”
Earlier on Thursday, soon after her arrival in Colombo, Sushma Swaraj held a meeting with Sri Lankan Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
She is also scheduled to call on Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and hold a meeting with new Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana.