Maritime security, blue economy top dialogue agenda in New Delhi

Maritime security, blue economy top dialogue agenda in New Delhi

Mandeep Singh

Policymakers and experts from 13 Indo-Pacific countries shared their visions for maritime security, trade and economic development when they gathered in March 2019 for the second Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue (IPRD) in New Delhi.

India took the opportunity as the host country to outline its vision for regional cooperation, transparency, shared responsibility and opportunities for growth.

“The oceans are a common heritage of mankind,” said Adm. R.K. Dhowan, chairman of India’s National Maritime Foundation, in his opening address. “And, the countries of the region need to work together to evolve a rules-based international order.”

Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom and the United States attended the dialogue, according to an Indian government news release. Themes covered during the two-day event included maritime connectivity, a free-and-open Indo-Pacific and development of the maritime economy.

“Through this annual dialogue,” the news release stated, “the Indian Navy and the National Maritime Foundation aim to provide a platform for substantive and insightful discussions pertaining to the geopolitical developments affecting the maritime domain of the Indo-Pacific and provide policy-relevant inputs to the policymakers and the public at large.”

In his own keynote lecture, Adm. Sunil Lanba, India’s chief of naval staff, pictured, emphasized the importance of improving “regional connectivity over the sea.”

“It is, however, important that all such efforts address the aspirations and concerns of all stakeholders,” he said, and that agreements “adhere to established international business practices and do not impinge on the sovereignty of any nation.”

Dhowan described a dialogue session in which participants deliberated the meaning of a free-and-open Pacific and discussed the necessity for universally respected rules governing this concept. Lanba scorned efforts by what he called “revisionist powers” not in attendance to gain dominance over Indo-Pacific shipping lanes and chokepoints.

“Through a combination of our independent and collective efforts,” he said, “we seek to contribute to keeping the maritime domains of the region free and open for all,” he said.

A session on the so-called blue economy dealt with the sustainable development of the oceans by reducing pollution and using maritime resources efficiently, Dhowan explained. The session endeavored “to examine the options for maritime cooperation with the littoral countries in the region to harness the blue economy.”

Elements of the widely discussed Fourth Industrial Revolution, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain technology, data analytics and the internet of things factor into what Dhowan described as the “maritime industry 4.0.”

“There is a need for specialized skill development,” he said, “for generating employment opportunities, for our maritime industrial workforce to thrive in an industry 4.0 environment.”

Sagar,the Hindi word for oceans, helps form the name of India’s vision for security and development in the region, Lanba said. Sagarmala is New Delhi’s four-pillar initiative for India’s ports: modernization, connectivity, port-led industrialization and coastal community development.

Underpinning India’s contribution to the region’s maritime environment is the Indian Navy, Lanba emphasized.

“The Indian Navy’s task forces are continuously deployed in key parts of the region,” he said, “mission-ready to address a wide range of contingencies. In recent months, our forces have successfully undertaken operations against maritime piracy, as well as provided HADR [humanitarian assistance and disaster relief] support in several places across the region.”

Mandeep Singh is a FORUM contributor reporting from New Delhi, India.