Kochi: Union Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor on Sunday said the Gulf region enjoyed a special focus in India's foreign policy and that the country had a vital stake in the stability, security and economic well-being of the Gulf.

“Maritime linkages between India and the Gulf have not only continued but strengthened in the recent past. They have transformed and diversified into political, economic, strategic and cultural linkages, investment, and a significant contribution of the Indian Diaspora to the wellbeing of both India and the Gulf,” Mr. Tharoor said in his keynote address at a seminar on ‘Maritime Linkages Between India and The Gulf — Old foundations, New Perspectives,' jointly organised by the Ministry of External Affairs, Kerala International Centre and National Maritime Foundation here.

“The bilateral trade between India and the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] reached $100 billion in 2009, making the GCC, as a block, our second largest trading partner after the United States. Gulf countries, due to the prevailing buoyancy in oil prices, have large investable surpluses…amounting to more than half of the global sovereign wealth funds in the world. We would like to see those funds increasingly come to India, which offers investors from the Gulf security of investment as well as high and enduring returns. In addition, four to five million Indians in the Gulf transfer about $30 billion in remittances to India annually.”

On the significance of the sea lanes in the Gulf in India's energy security, Mr. Tharoor said nearly 75 per cent of the country's crude oil requirement was met from this region.

“In 2008-09, India imported more than 92 million metric tonnes (MMT) of crude from the Gulf region against our requirement of about 128 MMT. Inevitably these imports use the sea lanes to reach the Indian shores given the absence of pipelines,” he said.

The emerging maritime security environment, Mr. Tharoor said, had made it imperative to protect the country's Exclusive Economic Zone of two million square kilometres to ensure security from attacks through the sea and enhance the country's close relations with the Gulf.

“India and the Gulf have a shared view of peace and prosperity in the region. Many Gulf countries look upon India as a benign and friendly neighbour on which they can depend in times of difficulty. Traditional naval powers continue to rely upon their sea control assets while emerging naval powers are developing sea denial capabilities. It is all leading to the creation of a new international maritime order, one characterised by a great deal of flux.”

The new maritime order, he said, would require the Indian Navy to have capabilities to perform in the entire spectrum of potential conflict, ranging from military mission and strategic deterrence to humanitarian assistance.

Joint ventures

Stressing that the relationship between India and the Gulf “can only become more intense as energy from the Gulf fuels India's economic motors,” Mr. Tharoor said there was a new emphasis on energy diplomacy as reflected in India's successful bidding of oil blocks in Yemen, Qatar and Oman. Efforts were on to set up joint ventures in downstream petrochemicals, fertilizer and energy intensive industries in the Gulf and India, he said.

Vice-Admiral K.N. Sushil, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Southern Naval Command, chaired the session. Sheikh Humaid Ali Sultan Al-Maani, Oman's Ambassador to India, delivered a special address.