External Affairs Minister calls for enhanced cooperation between UN and regional organisations to successfully address contemporary challenges.
As a global centre of gravity for its economic and demographic potential as well as security challenges, the Indo-Pacific region has fast emerged as the focal point of India’s engagement with its partners around the world – thereby ensuring the security and stability of the region’s maritime domain. This was once again validated earlier this week when India told the UN Security Council that its vision of the Indo-Pacific as a free, open and inclusive region is premised upon the centrality of ASEAN and the common pursuit of prosperity.
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“We think that enhanced cooperation between the UN and regional and sub-regional organisations will be an important factor in successfully addressing contemporary challenges and conflicts,” Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar told the UNSC, calling for coordinated action across borders to combat contemporary security challenges of terrorism, radicalisation and organised crime.
That statement has once again put the spotlight on India’s mainstreaming of the concept of the Indo-Pacific as a vast maritime space stretching from the western coast of North America to the eastern shores of Africa, encouraging and persuading others to perceive the region in its full extent.
“Indo-Pacific is a fairly recent addition to the geopolitical lexicon. It has come into prominence in the past decade. India has used it in joint statements with a series of partner countries, including but not limited to the United States, Australia, France, Indonesia, Japan, and of course the United Kingdom,” said Harsh Vardhan Shringla, India’s Foreign Secretary. “It figures in our meetings with our ASEAN friends and has helped advance the Quad consultations. That our Ministry has recently set up an Indo-Pacific Division as well as an Oceania Division, and placed them under the same Additional Secretary level officer, is a sign of India’s commitment to this critical geography,” he wrote in the Indian Express.
It is in this context that Dr Jaishankar’s address to the UNSC is critical. Addressing the UN Security Council open debate on 'Enhancing cooperation between the United Nations and regional and subregional organisations in enhancing confidence-building and dialogue in conflict prevention and resolution', the Indian External Affairs Minister said a rational evaluation of cooperation between the UN and the regional and sub-organisations during the last 75 years will "provide a good basis for our future engagements."
Highlighting that India has traditionally maintained close and friendly cooperation with regional organisations, Dr Jaishankar said India's relationship with the ASEAN is a key pillar of its foreign policy and the foundation of its Act East Policy. "India's vision of the Indo-Pacific as a free, open and inclusive region, underpinned by international law and a rules based order, is premised upon ASEAN centrality and the common pursuit of progress and prosperity,” he said.
A clear validation of the same came last month, when the four leaders of the Quad – comprising India, the US, Australia and Japan – held a virtual summit vowing to expand cooperation in a range of areas and resolving to work towards a free and open Indo-Pacific, amid China’s growing efforts to expand influence in the region.
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Dr Jaishankar also voiced India's commitment to further building on the momentum of regional cooperation under the framework of The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and make the organisation stronger, vibrant and more effective as well as result-oriented.
Indeed, India has been championing the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) idea with a multitude of initiatives, such as forums like the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI). It engages with its Indo-Pacific partners either bilaterally, or on multilateral platforms, in a wide array of spheres including maritime security, Blue Economy, maritime connectivity, disaster management, and capacity building.
In April 2019, India set up an Indo-Pacific wing in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) – a division is meant to integrate under one Indo-Pacific umbrella, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region.
Noting that the world order built following the Second World War is under serious stress, Jaishankar said the nature of threats faced by member states when the United Nations was founded 75 years ago has also changed. "Contemporary security challenges are not limited to territorial or political disputes, but transcend physical or political boundaries," he said. "In today's globalised world, terrorism, radicalisation, drug trafficking and organised crime have a growing salience. The security implications of new technologies cannot be disregarded," he said, underscoring that in order to face such diverse challenges, “we need coordinated and concerted action across borders."