Indian Ocean Rim Association

Recently Jakarta (Indonesia) hosted the first summit of Indian Ocean Rim Association  (IORA)IORA was previously known as Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) which was started in 1997 in Mauritius. 2017 marks the 20th year of formation of this organisation. Up till now IORA was focused more on economic integration and economic collaboration but the changing global scenario has shifted its focus towards security areas too. Currently, IORA has 21 members with members ranging from Africa to South East Asia.

Indian Ocean Rim Association  | Areas of Cooperation

It should be noted that the six areas where the member countries have been focusing today are trade and investment, maritime safety and security, management of fisheries, Science and Technology, disaster management and tourism.

Indian Ocean Rim Association  | Significance for India

India 80% of energy imports happen through the Indian Ocean and approximately 40% of the global trade traverse through it too. Therefore, security of it is of paramount importance. Up till now, the Indian Ocean Region is peaceful and there is no exchange of rivalry as compared to the other geopolitical arenas, with trade, transit and sea lanes being clear for navigation purpose.

But we shall not take this situation for granted, especially after the experience in adjacent South China Sea region. Hence, the security apparatus becomes a significant concern.

Indian Ocean Rim Association  | Focus on Security Issues

  • Ideally,IORA members must focus more on security issues in Indian Ocean Region because of the free navigation concerns simultaneously ensuring that there is no entry of foreign Navy in a manner to disturb the peace and tranquillity of the region; otherwise it would be tantamount to opening the region for competition which will eventually raise the cost for all the countries.
  • Interestingly, the international cooperation for anti-piracy activities has been one of the fine success stories. The issues of piracy arising out of Somalia and Gulf of Aden have now been contained.
  • There have been multipleaccords signed to cooperate against terrorism which necessitates the sharing of intelligence information between members. It should be noted that Pakistan is not the member of IORA but it has been indirectly influencing the security in Indian Ocean region because of Arabian Sea and the Gwadar Port. These two mouths to the Indian Ocean region should be watched closely by the member countries. We can also expect more Chinese presence in Gwadar port which would further jeopardise the security interests of the member nations of IORA.

Indian Ocean Rim Association  | Chinese presence in Indian Ocean

  • China has an ambition of developing a Blue Water Navy under which they already possess an Aircraft carrier. Chinese are having their presence in Pacific and Indian Oceans. The members of IORA wish for the peaceful rise of China which means that it should not become assertive and hinder the security prospects of the region.
  • China’s ambitious Maritime Silk route project is the project through which it wants to dominate the sea and trade routes passing through the strategic areas of their interest. In Sri Lanka for Hambantota port China gave $1billion as loan despite non generation of adequate revenue. Helplessly, the Sri Lankan government had to give the port to China on lease. It is the Chinese way of colonising small nations by first investing in projects abroad and then usurping the control over those strategic projects in case of non-repayment of debts
  • It is important that India should utilise the forum of IORA to enlighten the member countries who have embraced maritime silk route to understand the demonic policies of China. China does not adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) rulings and rejects any global intervention in its strategic interests.
  • When India has been accepted as the net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region, we should try to project and enforce that role. Countries like Indonesia have many difficulties with China on issues like Nine Dash Line and India should take a decisive stand on the freedom of navigation and international laws of the sea.

Indian Ocean Rim Association  | Conclusion

All member countries of IORA must work together and come up with definite rules and regulations in the shape of code of conduct so that it becomes difficult for foreign powers to violate those rules. A lone effort may not materialise as this requires a collective effort, enhanced coordination among the member countries and if there are any security concerns in Indian Ocean region it should be addressed effectively and collectively.

Raj Malhotra IAS Study Group.