The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) Defence Ministers’ Conclave began with a keynote address from Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on 4th February on the sidelines of Aero India 2021 in Bengaluru. Several Defence Ministers, Ambassadors, High Commissioners and senior officials from IOR countries have attended the event physically or in virtual mode.
Outlining the agenda, Raksha Mantri said that as the largest nation in the IOR region with a vast coast line of 7500 Kms, India has an active role to play for peaceful and prosperous co-existence of all countries. Rajnath Singh stressed that the Indian Ocean is a shared asset and a lifeline to international trade and transport due to its control of major sea-lanes carrying half of the world’s container ships, one third of the world’s bulk cargo traffic and two thirds of the world’s oil shipments.
Rajnath Singh said SAGAR – Security and Growth for All in the Region is the theme of Indian Ocean Policy as outlined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015. He added that in line with this the IOR conclave should focus on security, commerce, connectivity, fight against terrorism and inter cultural exchanges. Raksha Mantri identified areas such as deepening economic and security cooperation in the littorals, enhancing capacities to safeguard land and maritime territories, working towards sustainable regional development, Blue Economy, including sustainable and regulated fishing, and promoting collective action to deal with non-traditional threats like natural disasters, piracy, terrorism , illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing etc. as inter-related elements of SAGAR.
He said IOR faces a number of challenges such as piracy, smuggling of drugs/people and arms, humanitarian and disaster relief, and Search & Rescue (SAR) which can be met through maritime co-operation.
Rajnath Singh identified maritime resources as the key to sustained growth and development of IOR nations in the 21st century. He said that the negative impact of conflicting claims in some maritime areas of the world highlighted the need to ensure peace in the IOR region. He added that IOR countries have demonstrated mutual respect for a rules-based order and commitment to abide by international law.
Defence Minister said India was developing a comprehensive Maritime Domain Awareness picture in the IOR, which has resulted in signing of Technical Agreements for sharing of ‘White Shipping Information’. He added that Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), Non-combatant Evacuation (NEO), and Search and Rescue (SAR) Operations are important and highlighted India’s swift response during the cyclones in Mozambique and Madagascar and reaching out to countries through medical teams, medicines such as hydroxychloroquine, Remdesivir and paracetamol tablets, diagnostic kits, ventilators, masks, gloves and other medical supplies through Operation-Sagar-I during COVID times. He further said that Op-SAGAR-II saw over 300 metric tons of humanitarian aid being delivered to 4 nations in the IOR.
Rajnath Singh said vaccine supplies under grant assistance to Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles have already highlighted India’s commitment to protect humanity from COVID-19. He said that India was conducting training programmes for immunization managers, cold chain officers, communication officers and data managers of the recipient countries before delivery of the vaccines. He highlighted development of effective response mechanism to humanitarian crisis and natural disasters in the IOR region as one of the most visible element of India’s Indian Ocean strategy.
Raksha Mantri said India’s approach and vision to tackle global challenges was highlighted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dynamic five ‘S’ vision – Samman (Respect), Samvaad (Dialogue), Sahyog (Cooperation), Shanti (Peace) and Samriddhi (Prosperity).
In his closing remarks, Rajnath Singh said the enthusiastic participation was a symbol of the collective desire of the nations of the IOR region to work together. He applauded the dynamism, ideas and conviction for a brighter future displayed at the conclave. Highlighting the global geopolitical and commercial significance of the Indian ocean, he said 75 per cent of global trade and 50 per cent of daily global transfers already pass through the region. He further said the deployment of ships by the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast guard for maritime security and anti-piracy operations had been successful in minimising threats to commercial shipping.
27 out of 28 countries from the IOR region attended the conclave either physically or in virtual mode. Defence Secretary Dr Ajay Kumar delivered the welcome address at the conclave. Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh, Chief of Army Staff General M M Naravane and Secretary (Defence Production) Raj Kumar were also present.
India a natural leader in the region: Australian High Commissioner
Barry O’Farrell Australian High Commissioner to India has said that Australia wants to cooperate with India as a natural leader in the region to ensure that the neighbourhood is peaceful. He was speaking at the IOR Defence Minister’s Conclave at Aero India 2021.
Commending India on its vaccine production capacity, O’Farrell said that India’s vaccine production has again highlighted its manufacturing prowess & excellence. “That vaccines are now being rolled out, including in India, is the result of an astonishing sprint by our scientific communities, collaborating across borders to address a common challenge”, he said.
While this achievement is worth celebrating, it is also a reminder for those who work in defence of our nations that our work is only beginning, he said.
“Australia calls the Indo-Pacific home — and shares a responsibility with many of you — to safeguard the ocean we share: the Indian Ocean. That it operates by rules and norms that give us all the opportunity to prosper; allows access to open markets, and provides resilience against the economic and security challenges we all face”, said the Australian High Commissioner.
Speaking on India’s leadership in the region, he recalled Prime Minister Modi’s call for cooperation in the region a ‘sacred duty’ and his remark that IOR countries can be ‘factors for stability for our region and world.’
“Australia couldn’t agree more. That’s why we value India’s leadership in shaping the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific strategic environment more broadly. India’s decision to offer vaccines to regional partners is a critical example of this leadership. As does its decision to hold Aero India despite the ongoing global challenges posed by COVID-19. This event is a fantastic opportunity to showcase India’s domestic defence industry and its capabilities in defence of its nation”, said Barry O’Farrell at the conclave.
The High Commissioner said that Australia wishes to expand its defence cooperation with India as the people-to-people links and business-to-business collaboration are adding depth and ballast to the strategic relationship.