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Defense Minister flags issues in the Indian Ocean region

Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has voiced concern over increased militarization and extra- regional nations maintaining a near permanent presence   Indian Ocean region on "some pretext or the other".

This sort of militarization increases complexities for the countries in the region, she said. 

"The Indian Ocean has been peaceful over past few decades. However, our collective decision to capitalize on this or not and how we counter the emerging challenges will significantly influence the regional peace and security in future," she said.

 The Minister, who did not name any country for its undue presence in the Indian Ocean was addressing the inaugural function of the Goa Maritime Conclave of Navy Chiefs of Indian Ocean littoral states, which aims to address the maritime challenges in the region. The meeting was hosted by the Indian Navy at the Naval War College at Dabolim in Goa on November one.

 Ms Sitaraman, was obviously referring to the presence of Chinese Navy's presence in the region under the garb tackling the piracy menace and choosing to opt for freedom of navigation in Indian Ocean region, the concept she opposes in South China Sea. Ironically incidents of piracy have fallen drastically in the region during the last one year.


An increased militarization in the Indian Ocean has manifested in two interconnected forms in the region, Sitharaman said. "We have also witnessed extra-regional nations maintain a near permanent presence within the region on one pretext or the other," she said.


"In order to sustain such a presence through operational turnaround, these countries, which are extra-regional, are creating naval outposts as well as dual use infrastructure in the region. This sort of militarization increases the complexities for the countries of this region," Sitharaman said.


The defense minister also expressed concern over the emergence of non-state actors in the region. "The concept of non-state actors is not something new as the countries are dealing with this issue both at land and at sea since time immemorial," she said in an obvious reference to Jehadi terrorism, sponsored by Pakistan.


However, the recent surge in the number of non-state actors, with support they enjoy from certain states, their enhanced

reach as well as access to the resources has brought the issue to the forefront and demands a firm action," she said.


Referring to the 'blue economy', the Minister said the sea bed has emerged as a futuristic and abundant source of relatively pure minerals,

thereby adding to the Ocean's economic potential.


The progress achieved and the efforts to harness clean and renewable energy sources through off shore energy firms added a whole new

dimension to the economic and strategic impact of the Ocean on countries of this region," Sitharaman said.


While it is good that the compulsion of globalization has enabled economics to shape relationships between nations, the opaqueness in their

strategic intent, by certain nations is preventing these very relations from evolving beyond a transactional nature, she added.


The land based disputes and riparian issues, predominantly a legacy of the colonial rule were a key cause for conflict in the region.” As international behavior in the maritime domain is influenced considerably by land based imperatives, cordiality or latent hostility prevalent among nations on land tends to get reflected in the Seas too. She said.


In the past few years, China has set up or acquired stakes in a series of infrastructure projects in the region and has recently opened its first overseas military base at Djibouti in the horn Africa strategically placed in the Asia Europe route through Suez Canal.


The Chinese Navy has maintained a steady presence of warships and submarines in the Indian Ocean Region under the garb of anti piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.


To counter this, the Indian Navy has now put in place a new concept of mission based deployment to maintain round the clock surveillance on India’s vital areas of interest across the length and breadth of the Indian Ocean region. This was decided at the Naval commanders meeting held in the national capital last week.


The conclave of Naval Chiefs of Indian Ocean littoral states intended to be held every year, aims to bring together like minded countries to evolve collective responses to challenges in the maritime domain.
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