We must have a common vision for the Indian Ocean

The Acting US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice G.Wells reaffirmed here on Friday that the “United States is – and will continue to be – an Indo-Pacific power.”

Speaking at the Indian Ocean Conference organized by the India Foundation and its partners in Sri Lanka and Singapore, Wells said: “ For more than seven decades, we have embraced the responsibilities this distinction requires across this vast expanse, from the shores of East Africa to the western coast of the Americas. This will not change in the decades to come.”

Outlining America’ architecture for the Indo-US region, Wells said: “We must have a common vision for the Indian Ocean that enhances economic growth, transparent development, and regional integration. Regional initiatives that prioritize accountability, open markets, and delivery of tangible benefits to citizens of the region will be the most sustainable.”

“Second, countries must be able to effectively counter security threats in the Indian Ocean as well as respond to humanitarian and environmental disasters. Through joint capacity building and exercises, we can share the security burden in this increasingly complex region.”

‘Finally, we must support a principled regional architecture that unites us to support international standards, including freedom of navigation and the peaceful resolution of disputes. All nations have the right to freely fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.”

Starting with the economic imperatives, Wells said: “ If South and Southeast Asia reduced non-tariff barriers by 50 percent – an ambitious but attainable goal – increased intra-region trade would net $568 billion in increased GDP by 2030.”

‘Already, American companies operate across the region, supplying everything from bottled drinks to airplane parts. In India alone, over 600 American companies have contributed to a 500 percent increase in FDI over the past two years.”

“The United States plans to deliver over $600 million dollars of investment into Nepal’s transportation and energy sectors, yet another sign that our commercial ties to the Indian Ocean are growing deeper by the day.”

“As President Trump and Prime Minister Modi underscored during their June summit, both India and the United States are committed to bolstering regional economic connectivity through transparent infrastructure development and responsible debt financing practices.”

“In South Asia, our regional partners are doing their part. India is forging stronger trade and infrastructure ties with its neighbors through its Act East policy. In one example, Bangladesh, India, and Nepal are implementing a Motor Vehicle Agreement to allow free movement of goods and people across their borders.

We also commend progress in BIMSTEC and hope agreements on electricity grid connectivity and transport can be finalized before the next BIMSTEC Summit.”

Steps To Meet Security Challenges

On challenges to security and the steps to meet them, Wells said: “While the region offers unprecedented opportunity, it is also confronting a myriad of security challenges, including terrorism, transnational crime, trafficking-in-persons, and illicit drugs.

“To combat these challenges, the United States has sought to improve intelligence-sharing among regional partners and improve capacity-building in areas like community policing, counter-narcotics, aviation security, and forensics analysis.  There is also a critical need to expand engagement on maritime domain awareness.  In the increasingly crowded maritime environment, the sharing of reliable information is the foundation for greater cooperation.”

“The United States is also committed to building the coast guard capacity of our Indian Ocean partners.  Two weeks from today, Japan will be hosting the Global Coast Guard Forum, enhancing cooperation on maritime pollution prevention, law-enforcement, search and rescue, and many other issues.  Every nation here is encouraged to attend.”

Naval Cooperation

Expanding naval cooperation is another priority for the United States, Wells said.

“The U.S.-India-Japan MALABAR Naval exercise in July was our largest and most complex to date, involving over ten thousand personnel. We are also expanding our navy-to-navy relationship with Sri Lanka, with our first-ever naval exercise set for October.  With Bangladesh, we value our continued engagement through regular exercises like the Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training series.

We hope that one day in the not too distant future, all the navies of this region can jointly participate in exercises and coordinate maritime activities to build collective capacity and uphold international standards.”

Indian Ocean regional partners must adhere to a common vision that: respects international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention; supports an economic, political, and social linkages between South and East Asia; develops the region’s humanitarian and disaster relief capacity through maritime exercises involving all Indian Ocean partners; and encourages Indian Ocean economies to embrace visa liberalization, competitive markets, and accessible medical and educational facilities. (newsin.asia)

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