IMEC a ‘win-win situation’ for all States involved, not without its geopolitical challenges: FM

Fragile security situation in the South China Sea, in addition to ‘violations’ of established Codes of Conduct or Confidence-Building Measures, poses a ‘clear and present danger to good order and discipline at sea’, Navy Chief Admiral R. Hari Kumar says; Australia envoy highlights deepening ties between the two countries and their armed forces

November 15, 2023 09:15 pm | Updated 09:39 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman addresses the 2023 Edition of the Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue on the theme ‘Geopolitical Impacts Upon Indo-Pacific Maritime Trade And Connectivity’, in New Delhi, on Nov. 15, 2023.

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman addresses the 2023 Edition of the Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue on the theme ‘Geopolitical Impacts Upon Indo-Pacific Maritime Trade And Connectivity’, in New Delhi, on Nov. 15, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) is a “win-win situation” for all states involved, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said here on Wednesday, while highlighting that the project is “not without its geopolitical challenges”. She also termed the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza as “a worrying manifestation of these” challenges.

Ms. Sitharaman was addressing the Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue (IPRD), jointly hosted by the Navy and National Maritime Foundation.

Navy Chief Admiral R. Hari Kumar said the fragile security situation in the South China Sea, in addition to “violations” of established Codes of Conduct or Confidence-Building Measures, poses a “clear and present danger to good order and discipline at sea.” He further said the Indo-Pacific being the most militarised in the world further exacerbates the probability of ongoing competition becoming a conflict.

“Owing to the increased presence of multinational forces, and differing interpretations of international laws, there is this fear that the region’s ‘global commons’ can change to ‘contested seas’,” Admiral Kumar said. “More than 50 warships of extra-regional forces remain deployed in the Indian Ocean Region for various missions, including for anti-piracy patrol off the Gulf of Aden, and the wider Indo-Pacific also has significant naval presence.”

This contestation at sea can have adverse consequences for security - physical, social, as well as economic, he stated and cited two recent incidents during which trade and connectivity at sea was hampered. The first was the blockage of Suez Canal by MV Ever Green in 2021 and the other was the disruption of Black Sea shipping lanes during the ongoing conflict in Europe.

Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar said India seeks a free and peaceful rule-based Indo-Pacific region with open and unrestricted flow of lawful legitimate commerce. Calling for freedom of navigation and overflight in accordance with established international laws and conventions, he stressed, “We seek a just global regulatory regime that respects the right over Exclusive Economic Zone [EEZ], for the sustainable and equitable exploitation of marine resources and seabed in high seas.”

Mr. Dhankhar said that collaborative security and innovative partnerships seem to be the way forward adding, “This is the only way out. No country can stand alone, there has to be action in togetherness.” The Vice-President also released a book titled Building Partnership: India & International Cooperation for Maritime Security authored by Captain Himadri Das.

Addressing the event, Ms. Sitharaman said the IMEC will be a win-win as it enhances transportation efficiency, reduces logistics cost, increases economic unity, generates employment, and lowers greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to a cleaner, safer, better world. “It is a multimodal economic corridor that incorporates multiple networks of shipping, railways, and roadways and will also include electricity cables, high-speed data cables, and a hydrogen pipeline.”

Going into the details of the corridor, she said IMEC begins with what we might call the Eastern Corridor, which is predominantly maritime in nature. This will connect Indian ports such as Mundra and Kandla in Gujarat, with West Asian ones such as Fujairah, Jebel Ali, and Abu Dhabi in the UAE, and Saudi Arabian ports of Dammam, Ras Al Khair, and Ghuwaifat. Then there is a rail segment that will continue the IMEC and provide connection to the Saudi Arabian cities of Haradh and Al Haditha, onward to the port of Haifa in Israel, Ms. Sitharaman said.

The final segment, which some call the Northern Corridor, will once again be a maritime segment connecting the port of Haifa to the Greek port of Piraeus and thence to Europe, she stated. “Thus, the IMEC will create a reliable and cost-effective cross-border, ship-to-rail transit network to supplement existing maritime and road transport, and facilitate trade and connectivity, leading to the economic integration of South Asia, West Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.”

Addressing the gathering, Sarah Storey, Australia’s Deputy High Commissioner in India, said many things connect Australia and India and one of them is “an ocean at the heart of the Indo-Pacific”. “That home is very much changing in character. It is the world’s strategic centre of gravity, is where many of the world’s economic opportunities lie. But it is also the focal point of sharpening, competing interests and potential instability.”

In this regard, she said the Indo-Pacific is witnessing an unprecedented, big military modernisation and expansion, the biggest it has seen in the last 80 years. “China’s defence budget eclipses the next 17 highest spending countries in the Indo-Pacific combined,” Ms. Storey noted adding People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy has more than doubled its fleet of principal combatants in just a decade.

Competition between great powers is escalating and rules are threatened and undermined. We see that with our own eyes in the South China Sea, in the Pacific, and of course in India’s own backyard, Ms. Storey said outlining Australia’s recent major military modernisation including acquisition of nuclear-powered attack submarines.

We have achieved several firsts this year in the relationship, Ms. Storey said on the bilateral ties referring to an Indian submarine visiting Australia, Canberra hosting the Malabar naval exercise, and an Indian Navy Dornier visiting Cocos Keeling island as reported by The Hindu earlier.

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