Colombo: India on Wednesday said a multilateral rules-based international order, along with sincere respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity remains the foundation for reviving the Indian Ocean as a strong community, in a veiled attack on China which is flexing its muscles in the region.
Speaking at the 23rd Council of Ministers Meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) here, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar also said that it is important to maintain the Indian Ocean as a free, open and inclusive space based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), as the Constitution of the Seas.
“We will continue our approach of contributing to build capacity and secure safety and security in the Indian Ocean region including as first responder and a net security provider,” Jaishankar said as India assumed the Vice-Chair role of IORA for 2023-25 at the crucial meeting.
“A multilateral rules-based international order, along with sincere respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity remains the foundation for reviving the Indian Ocean as a strong community,” he said.
He said that in the resurgence of Asia, and global rebalancing, the Indian Ocean holds a central position, playing a crucial role in the development and prosperity of the littoral nations, by supporting trade and sustaining livelihoods, offering immense possibilities of connectivity and resource utilisation.
“It is the message of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ or ‘the world is one family’ which can be a binding force to bring the IORA Member States together,” he said.
Jaishankar said that as the vice chair and a member of the Troika, India’s priorities are clear. “It is our effort to develop an Indian Ocean community that is stable and prosperous, strong and resilient, and which is able to cooperate closely within and to respond to happenings beyond the ocean,” he said.
“It is thus important to maintain the Indian Ocean as a free, open and inclusive space based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), as the Constitution of the Seas,” he said, adding that the spirit of 1971 that the Sri Lankan colleague referred to, should continue to guide our outlook, discouraging any hidden agendas to the contrary.
China has been flexing its muscles in the strategically vital region and is also engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in both the South China Sea (SCS) and the East China Sea (ECS).
Jaishankar said that developmental issues, lack of robust connectivity, the burden of opaque and unsustainable debt generated by unviable projects, threats to social fabric posed by extremism and fundamentalism, dangers emanating from terrorism, natural disasters and climate change, all these are the challenges that we face.
“As the Vice-Chair for the next two years, India, the “vishwa mitra” or the world’s friend, a voice of the Global South, will work with IORA Member States to strengthen the institutional, financial and legal framework of IORA, towards realising the true potential of this dynamic grouping,” he said.
He said India’s specific focus will be in the areas of Maritime Safety & Security and Blue Economy as a coordinating country. India will also contribute to other priority and cross-cutting areas of IORA, as and when required, he added.
Jaishankar is among the 16 ministers attending the meeting which will also include the foreign ministers of Bangladesh, Iran, Mauritius, Malaysia and South Africa. (Agencies)