Indian external affairs minister S Jaishankar has said they believe that a seamless transition into an Indo-Pacific is to their collective advantage. He reiterated India’s commitment to the well-being and progress of all nations of the Indian Ocean.
"We have dedicated bodies like the Indian Ocean Rim Association or the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, with their specific mandates. We expand on that belief through the Neighbourhood First policy, the SAGAR outlook and our approach to the extended neighbourhood," he said while speaking at the inaugural session of the 6th Indian Ocean Conference in Dhaka on Friday evening.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the conference.
Jaishankar appreciated the personal support and encouragement extended by prime minister Sheikh Hasina, reflected in her presence amongst them.
The President of Mauritius and the vice-president of Maldives, ministers, notable dignitaries, scholars and experts joined the event.
Referring to Bangladesh which released its Indo-Pacific Outlook on 24 April 2023, Jaishankar said, "By doing so, Bangladesh joined a number of countries ranging from ASEAN and east Asia to Europe and north America in articulating its thinking on this important subject."
He said the Indo-Pacific is a reality and becoming more so with each passing day.
"I am truly glad that Bangladesh has joined the company of those who have done so," Jaishankar said.
He particularly noted from the 4 guiding principles and the 15 objectives of Bangladesh’s outlook, its respect for the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).
It is essential for the credibility of the global order that such foundational regimes are respected and scrupulously observed by all signatories, said the Indian minister.
He said the views of Bangladesh are particularly noteworthy because of its standing as a progressive and successful developing economy that is making its fullest contribution to regional growth and prosperity.
Jaishankar said, "The world is understandably seized of the larger domain of the Indo-Pacific, we should not underplay the issues and challenges of one of its core constituents – the nations of the Indian Ocean."
He further said many nations of the Indian Ocean still address developmental challenges that may no longer be relevant in the Pacific.
"So, even while impressing the essential coherence of the Indo-Pacific, I would urge that we also focus determinedly on the Indian Ocean nations and their challenges," he said.
He said, "When nations disregard their legal obligations or violate long-standing agreements, as we have seen, the damage to trust and confidence is immense. It is therefore essential that all of us take the long view of our cooperation, rather than a tactical one of our interests."
He said many of them in the region are today confronting the consequences of their past choices. "This is time to reflect and reform, not one to repeat and reiterate."
Jaishankar said connectivity is a particularly crucial issue for all of them.
Collectively, he said, the more they work on facilitating smooth and effective connectivity, the better off they all are.
"And obviously, we need to respect sovereignty and territorial integrity while doing so. Let me therefore underline that from India’s perspective, efficient and effective connectivity to ASEAN in particular will be a game-changer. We accord this the utmost priority," Jaishankar said.
He said they must put in place the bilateral, plurilateral and regional tools and mechanisms to achieve their ends.
"It would mean exchanging information on white shipping, cooperating on coastal surveillance or collaborating on maritime domain awareness," he said, adding thst diplomacy cannot rest content merely by articulating positions; it equally needs practical action to back it up.
There are some global challenges that also merit regional considerations, Jaishankar said.
"Chief among them are climate action and counter-terrorism. The universality of these concerns is by now well recognized. It is essential that our conversations aim to encourage common positions," he said.
The Indian minister said they must also be conscious of the threats to social fabric posed by extremism and fundamentalism taking advantage of democratic openness. "The costs of not doing so are also starkly apparent to all of us today."
Nations of the Indian Ocean are among those who lead the rise of Asia and the re-emergence of Africa, he said.
These nations have the responsibility today of shaping the narrative, shaping it about values, practices and correctness, Jaishankar mentioned.
"It is essential that their culture, history and traditions are presented to the world. If we are to compare the relative weight of littorals, that of the Indian Ocean still has to play catch-up. Our challenge, indeed our responsibility, is to hasten that process," he added.