Indian Ocean Conference Ends, Calls for Regional Stability

14 May 2023

The two-day 6th Indian Ocean Conference concluded in Dhaka on Saturday, with participants calling for maintaining regional stability to ensure the economic prosperity of countries in the Indian Ocean region. 


Representatives from the United States and Japan also participated in the event and expressed their commitment to addressing common challenges. 


The summit attendees also emphasised the need for a sustainable solution and greater engagement from Bangladesh's neighbours to resolve the Rohingya crisis and ensure the security and stability of the region.


According to Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, who spoke at a press briefing on Saturday evening after the conference, "increasing mutual cooperation among the countries of the Indian Ocean region in various areas such as security, trade, connectivity, marine resources, green economy, tourism, green energy, and environmental balance" was emphasised during the summit.


The foreign minister also highlighted Bangladesh's importance in the region, saying, "Bangladesh is located in the center of the Indian Ocean region. In view of that, Bangladesh will play a very important role in peace, security, cooperation, and growth in the region. 


"In view of the changing geopolitical and geo-economic realities, Bangladesh's position as a partner in the international arena has been further strengthened by organising the conference."


State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam also spoke to journalists earlier in the day, stating that Bangladesh wants to work together with countries in the region to resolve issues through discussion and joint efforts. 


He also stressed the importance of sharing good practices among partner countries as Bangladesh seeks cooperation in the region.


The Bangladesh foreign ministry, in collaboration with the Indian foreign ministry and its affiliated research institute India Foundation, initiated the sixth edition of the Indian Ocean Conference on May 12-13 in Dhaka. This year's theme was "Peace, Prosperity and Partnership for a Resilient Future."


The conference saw participation from a total of 40 government delegations, including 17 ministerial-level delegations. Additionally, the secretary generals of three regional and international organizations - Saarc, D-8 and Bimstec - as well as several other countries attended both in-person and virtually through their diplomatic missions in Dhaka. The conference also hosted approximately 150 foreign guests, including academicians, partisans, and civil society representatives.


While the conference primarily aimed to address issues of the coastal countries in the Indian Ocean region, the forum facilitated discussions on important and relevant issues within the context of recent global changes. 


Foreign Minister Momen noted that many recommendations and opinions emerged from the discussion of the participating delegates to address the problems and challenges of the region.


At the event, representatives from the US and Japan shared their commitment to assisting and collaborating more to face the challenges of the Indian Ocean nations to tap the potential. 


US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman who joined the conference virtually on Saturday said piracy, armed robbery at sea, and trafficking degrade maritime security, and that all of these challenges require a concerted approach. The US is committed to doing its part in this regard.


The US delegation was led by Afreen Akhter, deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs for Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and the Maldives.


"We want to see this regional architecture grow and solidify because we believe it is absolutely necessary for realising the potential of this region," she added.


As she heads back to Washington, Afreen said she takes the perspectives with her, noting that "Your voices will guide our efforts to help build a prosperous, peaceful, free and open Indian Ocean Region."


Afreen said in Bangladesh the US is implementing a $17 million programme over five years that will expand Bangladesh's access to affordable clean energy and support innovation in the clean energy economy.


Regarding illegal fishing, Takagi Kei, parliamentary vice-minister for foreign affairs in Japan, said that the rule of law is something of great value that is shared to ensure the best use of the Indian Ocean.


He emphasised the proper role of the UN.


Bimstec Secretary General Tenzin Lekhpell also spoke.


Myanmar was not invited to the summit.


Meanwhile, in response to a question as to why China did not participate in the conference, Minister Momen said, "Our ambassador to China delivered the invitation. Besides, the India Foundation also invited the Chinese think tank."


He, however, said that on behalf of China, two officials from its embassy in Dhaka participated in the conference.


The president of Mauritius and the vice president of Maldives, among others, joined the conference, inaugurated by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.


As the closing speaker, Bangladesh's Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen shared Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's six priority areas for the Indian Ocean Region: maritime diplomacy, combating climate change and natural disasters, strengthening partnerships, ensuring maritime safety and security, promoting peace, and promoting equitable and sustainable development. 


He emphasised the importance of cooperation and collaboration among Indian Ocean countries to ensure a better future.


The Indian Ocean region is home to 38 countries, with 13 in Africa, 22 in Asia, and one in Oceania, as well as two European countries administering several dependencies or overseas territories in the region. The region has a total population of 2.7 billion people, over a third of the world's population.


The next edition of the Indian Ocean Conference will be held in Australia.


Source: The Business Standard