GURGAON, Nov 2: India on Friday pitched for more robust “cooperative regionalism” among countries which share the Indian Ocean, a new theatre of maritime competition, and lauded the inclusion of the US as a sixth dialogue partner of the 20-member regional organisation. The Union of Comoros, an archipelago of four islands and several islets in the western Indian Ocean, also joined the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) as its 20th member.
The 12th meeting of council of ministers of the IOR-ARC unanimously approved the US’ inclusion as a dialogue partner, providing greater heft to the 15-year-old organisation which was set up in 1997 to foster greater maritime cooperation among littoral states of the Indian Ocean.
China, Japan, Egypt, France and Britain are the other dialogue partners in the regional body.
The ministers also approved Indonesia as the next vice-chair of the regional body after Australia takes over as the chair of the IOR-ARC next year.
A consensus, however, eluded on re-naming the IOR-ARC, which is seen as unwieldy and unpronounceable.
After the meeting, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid admitted that it was “a little bit of a tongue-twister”. He said there was a widespread feeling that “it should be good to shorten it and make it user-friendly”.
Lauding the consensual decision of ministers of the Indian Ocean countries to induct the US as a dialogue partner, Khurshid underlined that it will enhance the global profile of the IOR-ARC.
“The US and India are the world’s largest and oldest democracies. We have a strategic relationship with the US,” he told reporters.
India, the chair of the IOR-ARC, circulated the proposal for the US inclusion as a dialogue partner which was accepted by all member countries.
Inaugurating the meeting, Khurshid underscored the growing geo-strategic importance of the Indian Ocean, which forms the transit point for more than 80 per cent of global energy trade. Over 90 per cent of India’s energy supplies transit through the Indian Ocean.
“As focus of global economic growth shifts to Asia, it will occupy even greater salience in our strategic perspective,” Khurshid said at the Hotel Oberoi Trident in Gurgaon.
“We envision IOR-ARC as a regional body that can respond effectively to this need and enhance our individual and collective capacities to deal with contemporary challenges facing our common maritime domain,” he said.
The 19 members of the IOR-ARC are Australia, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Malaysia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, the Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, the UAE and Yemen.
The meeting culminated in “Gurgaon Communique,” which puts maritime stability and counter-piracy cooperation at the heart of the agenda.
Khurshid added: “Economic development cooperation requires a conducive environment to flower. Security of maritime commerce and safety of seafarers are of concern to all of us,” he said.
“There is a need to be more precise in defining high risk areas in the Indian Ocean, based on actual incidents of piracy, as this impacts adversely on insurance premiums and adds to the cost of shipping in our region,” he said.
Khurshid announced that India would host an IOR-ARC seminar on maritime security in early 2013 and stressed that it could be institutionalised as a regional forum for discussing security-related issues.
“In our view, the objective of this exercise should be to lay down a road map and agenda for our association for the coming years that will eventually establish IOR-ARC as an apex organisation for the Indian Ocean region,” he said.