(Text of Dr Ram Madhav’s Curtain Raiser Address at the Inaugural Session of the 7th Indian Ocean Conference – IOC 2024 – in Perth, Australia on February 9-10, 2024)
Namaskar and Good Evening!
It is my privilege and honour to welcome all the distinguished eminences to the 7th edition of the annual Indian Ocean Conference.
This is a series hosted by the India Foundation, New Delhi, in collaboration with the RSIS, Singapore, with the active support of Ministry of External Affairs of Government of India.
This year, the event is being hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia, together with Perth US-Asia Centre.
We are delighted that in this year’s conference, we have Ministers from 16 countries, including one Head of State, Officials from 16 countries and 6 multilateral organisations. There are delegates from over 40 countries.
Our hearty welcome to each one of you.
Indian Ocean is not an artificial geo-political construct. It is a natural region, home to more than three dozen nations. From the Persian Gulf to the Straits of Malacca, this vast expanse of water is the world’s third largest ocean covering over 74 million square kilometres.
Although the only ocean named after a country, the Indian Ocean is more a civilisation than a mere maritime geography. Over millennia, its waves touched the shores of countless countries carrying a cultural and civilisational message.
The Indian Ocean was the dominant economic and trade power in the first millennium, with the Indians and Arabs leading maritime trade. It was a region of peace.
The European powers rose as the “Lords of the Seas” in the 2nd millennium, culminating in the ascendence of the Pacific-Atlantic region in the last century.
The global power axis has decisively shifted to the Indian Ocean in the 21st century. It is here that the economies of scale, with massive populations with purchasing power exist today. Over 60% of the world’s container trade and 70% of the energy trade passes through the sea-lines of this region. Regrettably, these days, it is here, that many warships and submarines also started appearing regularly.
Countries in the Indian Ocean region face more of the non-traditional challenges that are common to all, like climate change, ocean levels, natural disasters and supply chains, as against the traditional security related challenges that divide countries and compel them to take sides.
Indian Ocean Conference is designed to create a forum for deliberating on these immediate and imminent non-traditional challenges of the region and create networks to help nations effectively tackle them.
Ladies & Gentlemen!
We are grateful that H.E Foreign Minister of Australia Senator Penny Wong who took the initiative of hosting the 7th edition of the conference here in Perth and upgraded this Track 1.5 event into almost a Track 1 event. Australia is a major country at the intersection of the Pacific and Indian oceans. We are glad that under Senator Wong’s leadership, Australia has outgrown its Pacific Ocean centric identity and joined hands with all of us to play an active role in the Indian Ocean. Thank you very much, Ma’am!
H.E Ranil Wickremesinghe, President of Sri Lanka is a scholar-politician. A firm believer in the distinct identity of the Indian Ocean region, he has been associated with the IOC series right from the beginning in 2016. We are happy to have you here this year also, Excellency!
Dr. Jaishankar, the External Affairs Minister of India, is ubiquitous these days in the global capitals due to India’s dynamic interventions on the world stage. He too has been an integral part of the IOC, first as Foreign Secretary of India and later as the External Affairs Minister. Thank you for your unwavering support to this important initiative, Sir!
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Singapore was our first host, when we initiated this series in 2016. He never missed the conference and has been a great support to us. Thank you for your participation, Excellency!
Finally, may I also thank Minister al-Busaidi, the Foreign Minister of Oman for his active involvement, although we miss him in this year’s event.
Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to the inaugural session of the 7th Indian Ocean Conference.