External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said on Saturday, that one of the problems in building partnerships in the Indo-Pacific maritime region was the lack of consensus on what such a concept meant or “even its geographic extent”.
Indian Ocean Region (IORA) countries should, therefore, build on a common vision, he said.
They all had the guiding principle of ensuring that the region remained “open and free for inclusive partnerships with all, within the parameters of sovereignty, equality, and a rules-based system.”
The challenge, however, was that countries to the west of India had fewer mechanisms than those to the east to pursue such ties.
“There is much less architecture that covers the Indo-Pacific region west of India, IORA notwithstanding, and certainly no architecture currently that spans the entire region from end to end,” Mr. Jaishankar said at the Ministry of External Affairs’ ‘Delhi Dialogue’ on partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, comparing the ASEAN-led mechanisms such as the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum.
While countries like the U.S. define the Indo-Pacific as reaching the Indian subcontinent, India and partners like Japan extend the idea to Africa.
Mr. Jaishankar said connectivity was a major challenge for building better Indo-Pacific partnerships, and suggested initiatives to enhance delivery of development projects.
“Our scientific departments offered a number of new initiatives, including a Grand Challenges scheme for the IORA; a fellowship scheme for up to 100 post-doctoral scholars; place for partners on our oceanic research vessels; co-branded IORA research facilities; and sharing of the existing technologies in India for low-cost, low-energy consuming desalination facilities, which may be useful especially for island nations,” he said.
Another major challenge was maritime security, he said, without specifying any nation or group seen as a threat in the Indo-Pacific.
Significantly, although the ‘Delhi Dialogue’ conference had participants from India’s Quadrilateral (Quad) partners, the U.S., Australia and Japan, Mr. Jaishankar made no mention of the Quad in his address, in line with the government’s objective of keeping the Indo-Pacific strategy separate from the Quad alignment.
In October, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said ‘the Quad’ would “prove very important in the efforts ahead, ensuring that China retains only its proper place in the world,” comments that New Delhi did not endorse.
“While we all need to work together to share maritime domain data to ensure that every link of the maritime security chain is equally strong, there are also challenges to human security that need to be addressed,” said Mr. Jaishankar, addressing delegates from 30 countries, including Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi, who delivered the keynote address.