Minister for Foreign Affairs of Singapore, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan in conversation with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe says it is time for Indian Ocean countries especially Asian nations to take the lead in determining their own future and hence an Indian Ocean Order needs to be crafted with accepted rules and agreements that would guide interactions between states. Delivering the inaugural address at the Indian Ocean Conference held at the Shangri La Hotel in Singapore recently. Premier Wickremesinghe noted that this Order needs to be built on a consensual agreement and no singular State should dominate the system.

“The Indian Ocean Order would have the primary responsibility of upholding the freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean, ensuring that shipping and air routes to East Asia and beyond are kept open, building closer economic cooperation amongst countries in the region, incorporating an Indian Ocean Development Fund for development of the region, and in particular, establishing a strong Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Management mechanism to deal with natural and manmade disasters,” Wickremesinghe said speaking on the theme of ‘Global Power Transition and the Indian Ocean’.

Pointing out that the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the regional organization is not an effective force and has fallen short of expected levels of delivery with regard to regional cooperation, he lamented that it is dormant when the strategic concepts concerning the Indian Ocean are being discussed.

“What is required as a start is a dialogue between the SAARC and ASEAN leaders. Indonesia, an ASEAN member also the current Chair of the IORA, can initiate this dialogue – spanning the IORA and all the interested major and middle powers.”

“The final objective will be the agreement on an Indian Ocean Order.  A settled arrangement guiding the interaction between states to ensure the safety and security of the Indian Ocean and its lanes of communications.  An Order established by consensual agreement for a peaceful maritime security space and the strengthening of Maritime Security cooperation for mutual benefit,” Wickremesinghe said.

He said that such an Indian Ocean Order can only be consolidated by strong and meaningful regional cooperation and therefore organizations such as the India Foundation have a role to play in presenting proposals for closer cooperation.

“Two of the areas requiring your efforts will be – firstly, the establishment of an Indian Ocean Assembly.    An Assembly which brings together, inter alia, Heads of State and Governments,  leaders of political parties, officials, academics, intellectuals, non-governmental sectors, cultural and commercial leaders, media representatives, youth groups in order to recommend measures for consideration by the Indian Ocean region.
“Secondly, a programme for cooperation in Education and Human Capital Development.  This single measure will make a significant contribution to the rapid development of the region.

“Our task, then, is to begin building a political eco-system that is both prescriptive and preventive; prescriptive in that it creates a structure out of the natural affinities of geography, culture and resources that already exist; preventive in that it contains the inevitable local disputes and prevents them from disrupting or spilling over on to a common Indian Ocean agenda,” the Sri Lankan Prime Minister said.

The event was attended by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs of Malaysia, Dato’ Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Bin Hamidi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Singapore, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister of Road, Transport and Highways of India, Shri Nitin Gadkari and  Sri Lanka’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Wayamba Development and Cultural Affairs, S.B. Nawinna.

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