The Fifth Indian Ocean Conference (IOC) 2021 will be held in Abu Dhabi from December 4 to 5, 2021. Chaired by Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, it will bring together Indian Minister of Foreign Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, among other senior officials.
The event is organized by the Foundation of India under the theme – Ecology, economy, epidemic. In an exclusive interview, Ram Madhav, board member of the India Foundation and an influential voice of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), explains how the Indian Ocean community can make the most of the current situation.
The choice of Abu Dhabi to host the Fifth Indian Ocean Conference is significant. Your comments?
The Indian Ocean Conference is a platform for stakeholder countries in the region to come together to discuss future cooperation and agenda. Over the past two decades, the Indian Ocean has become the lifeline of all major powers, not only in the region but throughout the world.
Along with the western Pacific Ocean, the Indo-Pacific is today the busiest place in the world. This is where the global axis of power in the 21st century is located. This is where economies of scale and emerging markets exist, populations and purchasing power exist and defense cooperation occurs.
The Arab countries are an important and integral part of this region. They depend heavily on the Indian Ocean for their trade and commerce. They have become the hubs of global ocean trade across the Indian Ocean.
The United Arab Emirates are among the major Arab powers. Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah together constitute important global trade centers in the Arab region. It is for this reason that the fifth edition of the IOC is taking place in Abu Dhabi.
In order to highlight the role of Arab nations in the world economy and trade, it was decided to host the conference in the region this year. The UAE is known for its world-class hotel infrastructure. With Expo Dubai 2020, this event will be an important step in the regional dynamics of the Indian Ocean.
The objective of the conference is quite broad this time. Ecology, economy, epidemic. What is the common thread in it?
World leaders see the Indo-Pacific as a zone of conflict. When meeting in global forums, discussions focus primarily on security, military, and conflict resolution. Many predict that the cold war of the 21st century will take place. But the countries of the region have a different point of view.
All the major countries in the region – from India and its neighborhood to ASEAN and the Gulf States – see the Indian Ocean region as an opportunity for prosperity and development; not conflict and the cold war.
The challenges for regional authorities are those that the conference addresses each year. This is a non-security focused conference. Countries in the region see enormous opportunities in ocean trade, supply chains and markets. They face challenges on the marine ecological front that negatively affect the lives, livelihoods and economies in the countries of the region.
Natural disasters such as man-made tsunamis, such as unregulated fishing and the exploitation of ocean resources, pose a serious danger to countries in the region. The climate change challenge of rising sea levels leads to the prospect of inundation of inhabited and uninhabited territories in different countries of the Indian Ocean.
Added to these problems was the current challenge of the pandemic. He calls for increased cooperation and support between world powers in general and regional powers in particular.
The IOC 2021 will discuss these three major issues which have a direct bearing on the future of the region and the world. Presidents, vice-presidents, prime ministers, ministers and officials from more than 25 countries will speak at the conference and share their ideas with their colleagues for better networking in the region.
The importance of the initiative can be assessed by the fact that it takes place every year in important Indian Ocean countries, highlighting the important role they play in the region, regardless of their economic and geographic size. . The fate of the Indian Ocean region must be in the hands of the regional powers.
The conference has become the most important regional multilateral initiative over the past five years. At the conference in early 2020 in Male, Maldives, more than 40 countries participated with ministerial-level participation from 17 countries.
In Abu Dhabi this year, despite Covid restrictions, 15 countries are expected to participate at the ministerial level in person and another 10 countries virtually. This proves the effectiveness of this exercise and the importance that the regional actor countries attach to it.
India and the United Arab Emirates have come closer than ever. How do you see this unfolding in the Indian Ocean region?
India and the United Arab Emirates have enjoyed strong bilateral relations for many years, which have grown even stronger in recent years. UAE leaders see India as an important partner in regional initiatives for prosperity and development.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai are like the second home of millions of Indians today. They are global centers offering enormous economic opportunities to Indian investors and entrepreneurs.
This bilateral relationship is one of India’s defining relationships with the Arab world, which is an integral part of Indian Ocean trade and commerce. Beyond economy and trade, our two countries are working together to establish peace and stability in the region’s immediate neighborhood as well.
Faced with the danger of the spread of the new variant of the Covid, what is your view on the cooperation between the Indian Ocean community?
Covid has launched a serious health challenge to the whole world. Countries struggle to ensure the health and lives of their citizens. In the process, they are forced to sacrifice their economic interests, resulting in widespread unemployment, poverty, economic decline and the resulting social unrest.
Countries in the region must unite to defeat the pandemic through cooperation in the production, distribution and availability of affordable vaccines. Supply chain issues require intergovernmental cooperation and networking. The Indian Ocean region has all the assets to meet the challenge.
It has the best vaccine production facilities in countries like India; it has an extensive network of ports and shopping centers to support supply chain issues.
The need of the hour is for the leaders of the region to come together in a spirit of camaraderie and strategize for their response. The Indian Ocean Conference is one such platform for cooperation and networking.