Event ReportsPublished on Sep 28, 2015
Perth hosted the second edition of the Indian Ocean Dialogue from September 5-7. Eighty-seven officials and representatives from think tanks and civil societies participated in the proceedings. The dialogue concluded with the release of the Perth Consensus.
Indian Ocean Dialogue - 2015

The second edition of the Indian Ocean Dialogue (IOD) was held from 5-7 September at Perth, Western Australia. This edition of the dialogue was built upon the outcomes of the first IOD held in Kochi, hosted by Observer Research Foundation (ORF) with support from the Ministry of External Affairs, India.

The second IOD was inaugurated by the Ms. Julie Bishop, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Australia and attended by 20 member countries, four Partners and one Observer. Eighty-seven officials and representatives from think tanks and civil societies participated in the proceedings of the dialogue which resulted in the adoption of the Perth Consensus. The Perth Consensus captures the spirit of regionalism in the Indian Ocean community highlighting the urgency to formulate a cooperative framework for the littoral. Participants at the dialogue discussed the issues facing the Indian Ocean region under six themes and two ’spotlight’ presentations over two days.

Dr. C. Raja Mohan, Distinguished Fellow, ORF, delivered the inaugural dinner address on September 5. He recalled the outcomes from the previous IOD laying the ground for the second one. As the ORF representative heading a five-member delegation from India, Dr. Mohan expanded upon the geo-political developments in the Indian Ocean region, providing an outline of the challenges ahead for the region as a whole. He emphasised on regional cooperation to realise IORA’s potential as an effective institution to combat crimes and address traditional and non-traditional security challenges.

The sessions began on September 6, with the Ms. Julie Bishop MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia, delivering the keynote address. The minister recognised that the "security challenges faced by our region are geostrategic in nature". She particularly noted "The rise of India and China, and the shift of global economic gravity towards East Asia, underscores the importance of maintaining a secure environment for trade and investment throughout our maritime region". The minister applauded IORA’s efforts on the Blue Economy and stressed on the need to find sustainable methods in ocean resource management. Acknowledging that opportunities come with challenges, the minister emphasised that regional cooperation and integration is the best way to manage conflicts. The minister also urged IORA members to deliberate on inclusive methods on women empowerment especially in the economic sectors within IORA. Concluding the address, the minister remarked on the need to continue to bolster IORA’s capacity and profile stating "As the only ministerial-level forum that s the Indian Ocean, we must continue to bolster IORA’s profile and capacity to enhance regional cooperation and consultation. IORA offers us the unique capacity to address key political, security and economic issues in a constructive dialogue."

After the keynote address by the minister, Mr. KV Bhagirath, the IORA Secretary General, gave a brief summary of the Secretariat’s agenda for the year gone by. The Secretary General commended Australia’s efforts, as the current chair, in integrating Blue Economy and Women Empowerment into the Secretariat’s agenda. He also reiterated that the Secretariat is committed to making gender discussions an annual feature. The Secretary General concluded with an overview of IORA membership and the charter noting that Germany has submitted its application to be a dialogue partner and Somalia will be joining the association soon.

The first spotlight presentation was on Non-Traditional Security Challenges which discussed four core issues: changing demography, food and water security, climate change and inequality. The presentation drew attention to the fact that a changing demography will alter all facets of security as by 2050, the number of older people will exceed the number of young people for the first time in history. The issue of food and water security was discussed in depth and it was noted that the situation is going to get worse if mechanisms are not put in place to stabilise food and water security. The panel concluded that demands at the moment are to stabilise the world population, eradicate poverty, reduce meat consumption, reduce the use of bio fuels and reduce waste. It was noted that regional cooperation and knowledge sharing will be critical in achieving these goals for the IORA members.

The next session was on Combating Maritime Transnational Crime. The panel agreed on drug smuggling, piracy, human trafficking, illegal fishing and maritime terrorism as the core threats forming transnational crime. The session also briefly touched upon ISIS as a potential threat in the Indian Ocean as it’s sitting at the periphery of the Indian Ocean. A key take away from this session was the need for a better legal finish -- to complete the prosecutions while dealing with maritime transnational crime. Participants emphasised on the need to strengthen existing legal frameworks, and intensification of information sharing to efficiently combat maritime crime in the Indian Ocean region.

The following session on Maritime Security and Defence Cooperation deliberated traditional threats to maritime security. The discussion noted the crucial role regional cooperation can play while addressing security threats in the region. The session underlined maritime cooperation and coalition building as the emerging trends in the region while identifying the gaps in the current security mechanisms. Participants noted the need for better coordination between coastguards, navies and other agencies dealing with maritime security to enhance IORA’s capabilities. Member states discussed ways to enhance information sharing in an effort to cultivate regional defence cooperation on maritime security.

Information sharing emerged as the key point in the session on Regional Cooperation in Search and Rescue (SAR) Operations as well. The crux of the SAR operations is in saving lives and managing risks at sea. Collaborations between countries, especially in real time information, would lead to better and efficient management of SAR operations throughout the Indian Ocean region. SAR cooperation would also enable nations to learn about each other’s capabilities and assets to facilitate operations for real time disasters. The discussion also noted that collaboration between nations on SAR is a confidence building measure. Citing examples of the region’s response to the missing airline MH370, the dialogue emphasised on the need to make surveillance systems in Search and Rescue Regions (SRR), stronger.

The second day began with a spotlight presentation on Deliberative Dispute Settlement: Developments in the Bay of Bengal. The presentation focused on the recently resolved maritime territory dispute between India, Bangladesh and Myanmar drawing lessons from it for future possible conflicts. The presentation briefly touched upon the legal aspects of territorial disputes contrasting the peaceful resolution in Bay of Bengal with tensions in the South China Sea.

The session on Blue Economy noted the opportunities in offshore oil and gas reserves that have not been exploited in the Indian Ocean coastline. Seabed mining is another area that has not been exploited and is rather a maturing industry. The discussions traced the need to consider the entire seabed, those within the territory and those outside. The Blue Economy is of particular importance to island states as it is their driving economic resource. This session too concentrated on methods to enhance regional cooperation in this sector in order to boost the region’s capabilities in Blue Economy. A key issue in this sector was identified to be the lack of consensus on the definition of a blue economy. Members noted that IORA must play a more defining role in management of ocean resources.

The session on Illegal Fishing acknowledged that fisheries stocks are being depleted. The use of destructive fishing methods and fishing without license were identified as the main reasons behind depleting fisheries stock as well as in destroying the seabed. The lack of an effective and adequate legal enforcement is a major gap while addressing issues combating illegal fishing. The participants also noted the lack of effective port monitoring in illegal transhipment of fish at sea. The session outlined the need for better regional cooperation and development of stricter port-state measures among the member states in IORA.

The final session was on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR). The key HADR challenges were identified as prevention and planning, processes for coordination, information gathering and capability variances. Building regional understanding about capabilities and infrastructure will enhance IORA’s capacity to efficiently handle HADR in the region. Noting that the Indian Ocean region is one of the most disaster prone areas in the world, the participants concluded that there is an urgent need to bridge the gap in capabilities in the region as well as in formulating a regional doctrine on HADR.

The dialogue concluded with the release of the Perth Consensus. Members agreed to meet in 2016 under the chairmanship of Indonesia, scheduled to lead IORA from October 2015-2017.

The Perth Consensus

Report prepared by Darshana M. Baruah, Junior Fellow, ORF Delhi.

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