Addressing the first Indian Ocean Conference by the Ram Madhav-led India Foundation in Singapore, the foreign secretary spoke about development initiatives, regional diplomacy, naval cooperation, blue economy and international law to spell out India’s integrated strategy for the region.
“We are working on ambitious plans for port and portled development that would make our 7,500km coastline more relevant to the future of the Indian Ocean and India. We are similarly looking at more aggressively developing some of our 1,200 islands,” he said.
Highlighting the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor and others being built across the country he said, “If you juxtapose these infrastructure initiatives with the ‘Make in India’ programme, the implications for the Indian Ocean are quite evident.”
He recognized that building an Indian Ocean ‘sensibility’ or common strategic space among littoral countries who already think of themselves as belonging to different groupings may be difficult. “Encouraging them to work towards a composite Indian Ocean is, therefore, not easy. None probably would be opposed but few actually have the necessary enthusiasm or appetite. At a diplomatic level, promoting greater interaction among these groupings would itself make an important contribution to the Indian Ocean,” the foreign secretary said.
For all those wondering whether PM Narendra Modi would travel to Pakistan for the November Saarc summit, Jaishankar offered encouragement. “We see the re-energizing of Saarc as one of our key foreign policy priorities. India is very conscious that South Asia is among the least integrated regions of the world. “
Minister of state for external affairs, M J Akbar, described India as “pivotal power”. “India, geopolitically in the centre, has become the ‘Pivotal Power of Asia’. India is the western frontier of peace, and the eastern frontier of war.”
Keeping the heat on China following the Hague court’s South China Sea award, the foreign secretary reiterated, “India believes States should resolve disputes through peaceful means without threat or use of force and exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that could complicate or escalate disputes affecting peace and stability. Sea lanes of communication are critical for peace, stability, prosperity and development.
As a State Party to the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), India urges all parties to show utmost respect for the UNCLOS, which establishes the international legal order of the seas and oceans.”