February 07, 2024: Preparations are complete for the seventh iteration of the Indian Ocean Conference, scheduled to take place in Perth, Australia, on February 9 and 10 where around 40 countries and six multinational organisations are participating.
This significant event, organized by the India Foundation in New Delhi, in collaboration with the RSIS in Singapore and the US Asia Centre in Perth, Australia, will witness the participation of a head of state, senior ministers from 21 countries, senior officers from 16 countries, and six leaders from multilateral organizations.
The conference enjoys the backing of India's Minister of External Affairs, S Jaishankar, and key figures such as Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore's Foreign Minister; Sayyid Badr Albusaidi, Oman's Foreign Minister; and Penny Wong, Australia's Foreign Minister. It has become a key forum for dialogue on regional matters among countries in the Indian Ocean region.
The Indian delegation will include notable speakers like Ram Madhav, M J Akbar, Ambassador Anil Wadhwa, Vijay Thakur Singh, among others, joining dozens of distinguished speakers from various countries.
The conference running into the seventh successful annual meeting aims to foster dialogue among Heads of States/Governments, Ministers, Thought Leaders, scholars, diplomats, bureaucrats, and practitioners from the region annually.
This year's conference theme, “Towards a Stable and Sustainable Indian Ocean,” aims to unite important stakeholders to develop strategies for enhancing regional cooperation. The agenda includes panel discussions on climate change and energy transition, the blue economy, managing global commons, and partnerships for a resilient region on the first day. The second day will feature plenary sessions on building a peaceful region, our blue future, harnessing technological changes, investing in our shared future, and strengthening ties in the Indian Ocean.
In anticipation of the conference, Jaishankar met with the Australian High Commissioner to India, Philip Green, to discuss the India-Australia partnership. He expressed his enthusiasm for the visit to Perth for the conference through a post on X.
Since its inception in 2016 in Singapore, the Indian Ocean Conference has become the premier forum for discussing regional affairs, with previous conferences held in diverse locations including Dhaka, Abu Dhabi, the Maldives, and Hanoi. The upcoming conference in Perth is set to continue this tradition, emphasizing the geopolitical and economic dynamics of the region.
Perth's selection as the venue underscores its strategic location along the Indian Ocean and its role as a cultural and economic bridge between Australia and India. The involvement of the Perth US Asia Centre in the conference signifies Australia's strategic importance in the Indian Ocean region, with the expectation of providing insightful contributions to the discussions. The economic ties between India and Western Australia, particularly in the tourism sector, highlight the strengthening relationship between the two, benefiting Western Australia's economy significantly through Indian tourism.
The Strategic Importance of the Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean stands as a pivotal nexus in the global landscape, boasting a strategic location that intersects major trade routes linking the powerhouse economies of the Northern Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions.
Beyond its geographical advantage, the Indian Ocean is a treasure trove of natural resources. Nearly 40% of the world’s offshore oil production occurs within the Indian Ocean basin, while its waters support a growing fishing industry accounting for almost 15% of the global total.
The region's seabed holds immense mineral wealth, with nodules containing valuable elements such as nickel, cobalt, and iron, alongside substantial deposits of manganese, copper, zinc, silver, and gold. Coastal sediments further contribute to this wealth, yielding titanium, zirconium, tin, zinc, and copper, with traces of rare earth elements also present.
The strategic importance of the forthcoming Indian Ocean conference will delve into maritime security and governance in the Indian Ocean, tackling crucial topics like the blue economy, coastal welfare, rule of law, piracy, armed robbery, and international cooperation. Discussions are likely going to address ongoing tensions such as piracy and attacks in the Red Sea by Houthi militants and attacks on commercial ships, the growing presence of the Indian navy and their daring actions providing security to the merchant ships and saving attempts of their staff being kidnapped.
Central to the Indian Ocean's significance are its critical choke points, including the Straits of Hormuz, Malacca, and Bab-el-Mandeb. These vital passages serve as linchpins for global trade and energy flow, underscoring the imperative of securing them.
The Indian Ocean sometimes is tempered by criminal activities and anti-national endeavours, inviting foreign, political, and military interference. Incidents of smuggling, including goods, gold, narcotics, explosives, and arms, coupled with migration, human trafficking, and terrorist infiltration, have been recurrent, posing challenges to regional stability.
As nations grapple with the multifaceted dynamics of the Indian Ocean, the imperative of safeguarding its resources, securing vital passages, and combating transnational threats remains paramount, shaping the geopolitical landscape of the region and beyond.