The world is increasingly focused on the Indian Ocean region

us state deptAddressing the 15th Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Council of Ministers Meeting in Indonesia on October 23, 2015 Atul Keshap U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and Maldives said, ‘The world is increasingly focused on the Indian Ocean region. This vast maritime area has become an undeniable pivot-point for the world economy and is poised to remain at the heart of global affairs for this century and beyond. The needs, desires, and development of the billions of people who call the Indian Ocean region home are central to the global economy and global stability. From the ramparts of the old Dutch fort in Galle, in Sri Lanka, where I am currently posted, one can see the immense quantity of shipping – tankers, bulk cargo freighters, and container ships – that sail along the vital energy and trade routes between the Straits of Malacca and Hormuz. The security and prosperity of the entire world is affected by what happens along these vital sea lines of communication.’

Madame Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi of the Republic of Indonesia, ddistinguished delegates and guests, I convey to you the warm greetings of Secretary of State John Kerry, and his appreciation to the Government of Indonesia for hosting this Meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. The Secretary and President Obama look forward to President Joko Widodo’s visit to Washington next week.

I am delighted to attend my third consecutive IORA Ministerial. It is encouraging to see how IORA has continued to strengthen and gain currency as one of the most important multilateral organizations focused on shared interests in the Indian Ocean.

Permit me to thank the Government of Australia, in particular Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, for its energetic chairmanship of IORA over the last two years, including its strong outreach to Dialogue Partners. The Government of Indonesia will no doubt prove an equally active and welcoming Chair. As underscored in its Maritime Fulcrum policy, Indonesia recognizes the importance of the Indian Ocean and cooperation between Indian Ocean countries.

Friends and colleagues, I want to focus my remarks today on the future of IORA.

The world is increasingly focused on the Indian Ocean region. This vast maritime area has become an undeniable pivot-point for the world economy and is poised to remain at the heart of global affairs for this century and beyond. The needs, desires, and development of the billions of people who call the Indian Ocean region home are central to the global economy and global stability. From the ramparts of the old Dutch fort in Galle, in Sri Lanka, where I am currently posted, one can see the immense quantity of shipping – tankers, bulk cargo freighters, and container ships – that sail along the vital energy and trade routes between the Straits of Malacca and Hormuz. The security and prosperity of the entire world is affected by what happens along these vital sea lines of communication.

The United States’ whole-of-government effort to “rebalance” to the Indo-Pacific region is based on recognition of this reality. We are dedicating enhanced diplomatic, military, and foreign assistance resources to facilitate regional peace, economic growth and development, energy cooperation, and people-to-people exchanges in the Indo-Pacific. The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement further reflects the growing importance of this dynamic region, as does our strengthening of bilateral partnerships with key allies and partners in the region.

The future prosperity and stability of the Indian Ocean region is the collective responsibility of all nations to ensure that the Indian Ocean region remains a place of peaceful commerce and exchange. To achieve this vision, the region must first and foremost find its own voice and build the necessary structures to foster development. Together, these efforts can create a blueprint for a rules-based architecture that facilitates peaceful resolution of disputes, transparency, freedom of navigation, environmental safeguards, strengthened economic and people-to-people linkages, and democratic values and human rights. These are all areas where IORA can find its footing.

Indeed, some countries in the region are already leading by example, resolving maritime boundary issues in a peaceful manner through binding arbitration. The United States commends the example shown by India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar recently in this regard, as it shows a positive way forward for all other Indo-Pacific countries in peacefully settling complicated matters in ways that enhance regional stability and prosperity.

The actions we take now will help set the stage for the next half-century. Today’s choices will determine if future generations have access to sustainable fisheries, enjoy higher standards of living, and are able to live in a world free of territorial and resource-driven conflicts.

IORA has an opportunity to play a pivotal role – it has the right objectives and components to become a cooperative forum on shared interests of states throughout the region. APEC was established in 1989, forging a shared Pacific consciousness and common set of economic and trade principles that have considerably boosted prosperity for a diverse group of nations in Asia-Pacific and the Americas. The first meeting of the East Asia Summit was only a decade ago. Today both these institutions are important drivers of regional security and progress. The United States believes that IORA has the potential to emulate these successes by creating a shared Indian Ocean consciousness among the Indian Ocean countries of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, and Oceania.

The countries of IORA have common cause against a range of contemporary global threats, including terrorism, violent extremism and maritime piracy. But security challenges are not the only threats we collectively face.

It is equally important to recognize – and protect against – threats to our global environment. The increasing threat of climate change and the declining health of ocean and coastal ecosystems threaten the livelihoods on which much of the world’s people depend.

The United States is equally committed to protecting the health of our Oceans and believes IORA can be a major partner in this effort. We must enhance the vitality of coastal communities through conservation and sustainable use of ocean resources. We must commit to marine planning, and practices to enhance food security and community resiliency.

The diverse economic opportunities of Indian Ocean fisheries, tourism, transportation, and energy, must be balanced by responsible investment that supports local communities and protects the environment. A healthy ocean economy means balancing development and growth with science-based conservation and management of ocean and coastal resources and ecosystems – upon which such development depends. We must prioritize conservation and the sustainable use of ocean and coastal resources to ensure that the use of these resources does not contribute to the decline in the health of oceanic and coastal environments.

IORA presents an opportunity for the Indian Ocean region to craft its own identity – to set its own priorities, build its own connections, set its own peaceful and transparent norms, and strengthen its common voice – just as other regional organizations have done.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today. The United States of America looks forward to continuing our close and fruitful cooperation with the Indian Ocean Rim Association. (State.Gov)

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