“The fragile security situation in the South China Sea, in addition to the happening of violations of established codes of conduct or confidence building measures, poses a clear and present danger to good order and discipline at sea,” Indian Navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar said on Wednesday at a time when China continues to assert itself in the Indo Pacific Region.
To meet the challenges, Admiral R Hari Kumar, in his inaugural address at the Indo-Pacific Region Dialogue (IPRD) 2023, stated India has prioritised creation of a participative and inclusive ecosystem for all on equal footing, develop interoperability and trust among engaging partners and focussing on persistent problems in the region.
“The first is to support harnessing of the multitude of competencies that are resident amongst each one of our navies. To this end, we have prioritised creation of a participative and inclusive ecosystem for everyone to participate as an equal partner while tackling common maritime challenges,” Indian Navy chief said before a gathering of senior officers of armed forces from other Indo Pacific countries, diplomats, experts, among other.
According to him, the recently concluded Goa Maritime Conclave, where 12 navies of our immediate maritime neighbourhood got together to discuss a mitigating framework for achieving our ‘Common Maritime Priorities’, is a case in point.
“The second aspect is engaging partner nations to develop interoperability and trust. Trust cannot be surged or built in a day, a week or even a month. We understand that building trust requires sustained and continued engagement between friends. Initiatives such as IPRD are aimed at fostering such trust,” he stated.
Similarly, he said, the final element is focusing on the persistent problems faced by regional nations on a day-to-day basis. Addressing these problems together make the multilateral constructs more output oriented.
This region, as per the Indian Navy Chief, is the most militarised in the world, fuelling the probability of ongoing competition becoming a conflict. “More than 50 warships of extra-regional forces remain deployed in the Indian Ocean Region for various missions, including for anti-piracy patrol off the Gulf of Aden, and the wider Indo-Pacific also has significant naval presence. Owing to the increased presence of multi-national forces, and differing interpretations of international laws, there is this fear that the Region’s ‘Global Commons’ can change to ‘Contested Seas’,” Indian Navy chief said before a gathering of senior officers of armed forces from other Indo Pacific countries, diplomats, experts, among others,” he said.
Admiral Kumar expressed fear that this contestation at sea can have adverse consequences for security - physical, social as well as economic -- and cited past two instances including disruption of Black Sea shipping lanes during the ongoing Russia- Ukraine conflict. This conflict had disturbed grain exports from Russia and Ukraine, which together provide 30 per cent wheat, 75 per cent sunflower oil and 20 per cent maize of world’s supply, he pointed out to highlight about the collateral damage.
Drawing attention on Indo-Pacific’s economic potential, he stated that the maritime geography has some of the world’s most important sea lanes, with trade passing through choke points such as, Malacca Straits, Dondra Head, Gulf of Aden, etc. Nine of the ten busiest ports in the world are in the Indo-Pacific, seven of top 10 export destinations are in the region, and about half of the global trade transits through the maritime trade routes, he listed out. Besides that, the Indo Pacific region is also the world’s most bio-diverse area - with about 3,000 species of shallow marine fish one-third of the global share, he shared.