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Countries in Indian Ocean responsible for its stability: Sushma Swaraj

The external affairs minister said if maritime economy of the Indian Ocean region is to be a force for global economic growth, its waters need to remain peaceful, stable and secure.

india Updated: Aug 31, 2017 22:08 IST
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India
Press Trust of India, Colombo
Indian maritime security,Sushma Swaraj,Maritime security
Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (2L), India’s external affair’s ministerSushma Swaraj (L), Seychelles'vice president Vincent Meriton (2R) and Singapore's foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan (R) takes part in the opening of the two-day Indian Ocean Conference 2017 in Colombo on August 31.(AFP Photo)

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday said countries in the Indian Ocean bear the primary responsibility for its peace, stability and prosperity as she underlined the need to keep it safe and secure.

Swaraj said that if the revitalised maritime economy of the Indian Ocean region is to be a force for global economic growth, it is essential that the waters remain peaceful, stable and secure.

“It is imperative too, that all stake holders abide by a rules-based global order,” she said while addressing the 2nd Indian Ocean Conference here.

Noting that the Indian Ocean is one of the most critical maritime transportation links in the world today, she said nearly one lakh 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.

“The fact that three quarters of this traffic is headed for destinations beyond the region underlines the fact that the Indian Ocean is of vital importance well beyond the shores of the littoral states,” she added.

For India, she said, the Indian Ocean is of vital importance - the country has an extensive coastline of 7,500- km and 90 per cent of India’s trade by volume and almost all of our oil imports come through the sea.

“As we envisage the Indian Ocean as an engine for growth and prosperity in our region and beyond, it is of utmost importance that these waters remain safe and secure. We consider it an imperative that those who live in this region bear the primary responsibility for the peace, stability and prosperity of the Indian Ocean,” she said, amid increasing forays by the Chinese Navy in the region.

Apart from establishing a naval base at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, China is currently building ports in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota and Pakistan’s Gwadar.

Chinese ships and submarines have appeared more frequently in the Indian Ocean in recent years.

Pointing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s concept of SAGAR ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’, she said this is a clear, high-level articulation of India’s vision for the Indian Ocean.

Swaraj said these are enhancing capacities to safeguard land and maritime territories and interests; deepening economic and security cooperation; promoting collective action to deal with natural disasters and threats like piracy, terrorism and emergent non-state actors among others.

“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,” Swaraj said.

“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,” she added.

Noting that connectivity is one of the major themes of Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, she said India would 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.”

Asserting that security is fundamental to the ‘SAGAR’ vision, she said the Indian Ocean is prone to non-traditional security threats like piracy, smuggling, maritime terrorism, illegal fishing, and trafficking of humans and narcotics.

“We realize that to effectively combat transnational security challenges across the Indian Ocean, including those posed by non-state actors, it is important to develop a security architecture that strengthens the culture of cooperation and collective action,” Swaraj said, adding that India is prepared to bear its share of responsibility.

She mentioned India’s active participation in anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa; and, joint EEZ patrols off the waters of Maldives, Seychelles, and Mauritius.

She said India has been the the “first responder to calls of assistance - providing relief supplies and medical aid to flood ravaged peoples of Sri Lanka in June 2017 or to rescuing Bangladeshis swept off the coast due to cyclone Mora or to alleviating the acute drinking water crisis in Maldives in 2014 when it airlifted 1,000 tonnes of fresh water to Male.

First Published: Aug 31, 2017 22:01 IST