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Interaction of IDSA scholars with media delegation from 18 IOR-ARC member countries

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  • October 29, 2012

    A media delegation from the 18 member countries of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) visited IDSA to interact with the Director-General, Dr. Arvind Gupta and other IDSA experts on issues pertaining to India’s role in the IOR-ARC.

    Dr. Gupta briefed the delegation on the IDSA’s mission and its research agenda. He also gave the delegation an overview of India’s Foreign Policy which is based on the following tenets – strategic autonomy in foreign policy-making, economic reforms and opening up of markets in the early 1990s and lastly, the changing security environment where India has to deal with both traditional and non-traditional security threats. As far as the Indian Ocean region is concerned, Dr. Gupta stressed that in addition to being a re-discovery of India’s oceanic past, the region is important for its security, peace and development. Of late, there has been an increased interest in the region, especially on issues such as maritime security, diaspora and climate change. India, for its part, is trying to find its way and is making its contribution to deal with these issues. In the process, it is trying to arrive at a holistic response.

    The delegation raised numerous questions on issues related to Indian Ocean region. The overarching subject was maritime security and piracy. On the Strait of Malacca, it was stated that the strait is very much a part of India’s security perimeter and there is a need to be more proactive and have joint patrols in the strait. Although currently there are no joint patrols, talks are on to have them in the future. On the question of whether India can be expected to help Mauritius manage its maritime security and address piracy, it was said that at the moment, it depends on the request made by the host country. However, India is exploring the option of building facilities in Seychelles and Mauritius. With regard to India’s take on the ‘string of pearls’ and dual usage of ports, it was stated though peaceful port visits is a non-issue, usage of ports during heightened conflict must be based on the laws of neutrality. On the question of whether India feels encircled by China, the response was that China was not a major concern for India but would be so only during heightened conflict. As far as the American presence in the region is concerned, it is likely to continue to remain in the region and is also essential for the security architecture of the region. The Asian countries have not yet considered a role in the region without the American presence. The IOR-ARC has not yet evolved enough to deal with hard-core security issues that still remain out of its purview. The Association is constrained by limitations such as insufficient budget capacities, lack of institutional and national capabilities to tackle security issues. However, if they can overcome these challenges, then perhaps the dependency on extra-regional powers can be omitted.

    On the issue of trying pirates legally, it was noted that Malaysia has set a precedent and other countries that don’t have legislations on piracy should follow suit. India is in the process of getting a bill on piracy passed. Another issue that was raised was regarding the decrease in piracy on the eastern coast of Africa while it is increasing on the western coast. It was observed that there is no direct co-relation between the two and that piracy on the West coast is not a new phenomenon. As far as Chinese ‘economic incursions’ into Africa is concerned, there is no reason why India has to compete with China in the continent; African countries welcome both the Asian giants and there is space for both their markets. India’s ties with Africa date back to the ancient times and in the recent years, it has become more institutionalised with engagement taking place on three levels – bilateral, regional and continental.

    There were also questions on other issues such as the mediating role that India could play between Iran and the West. It was pointed out that at the moment there is no appetite for meditation. But if both the parties agree, then India would be open to mediation. Similarly, India will also not mediate between Israel and Iran unless it is requested to do so. As far as the dispute between India and Bangladesh over maritime boundary is concerned, it was opined that it would serve the interests of both the parties to wait for the verdict from the International Tribunal. On the inclusion of Somalia and Pakistan in the IOR-ARC, the future possibility of their membership was not excluded. With regard to India-Yemen cooperation, it was said that the two countries share good bilateral relations and the Indian government is open to deepening trade and economic relations.

    Report prepared by Keerthi Sampath Kumar, Research Assistant, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.