VP for Asian eco community nucleus to protect Indian Ocean

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New Delhi, Feb 15 (UNI) Vice President Hamid Ansari today called for a nucleus of an Asian Economic Community to ensure peace, stability and progress in the Indian Ocean region, which faces a high degree of threat perception from non-state actors.

Addressing the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium here, he said unlike Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Indian Ocean could be accessed through several choke points and thus necessitated intense policing.

''That one-fifth of the total trade flowing through the Ocean is conducted among the countries of the Indian Ocean Rim (IOR), that 80 per cent of it is extra-regional, and that local conflicts in the Indian Ocean littoral have the potential to acquire international dimensions in view of the need to safeguard the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC).'' Mr Ansari said these were augmented by actual and potential threats of varying intensity from non-state actors. In addition, most of the contemporary international conflicts from Iran-Iraq war, to Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom have taken place in the Indian Ocean Region, he added.

''An earlier effort, to create an IOR grouping, did not produce the desired results. Within the region, and around it, are important political and economic powers that have a stake in peace, stability and progress. They could form the nucleus of an eventual Asian Economic Community.'' ''India is and will remain a maritime nation. In keeping with its maritime heritage, its overseas presence would be based on its soft power and cooperation,'' the Vice President said.

He also called for measures to create transparency, build confidence and security.

Advance notice of exercises and of ship movements, joint exercises, training, joint naval hydrographic operations, joint task forces for policing and agreement on avoidance of incidents at high sea, regular gatherings of littoral states, user states and other stakeholders to discuss matters of concern and undertaking initiatives to establish regional maritime security mechanisms are some of these measures.

With 7516 km long coastline, 27 islands of the Lakshadweep chain and 572 islands of the Andaman and Nicobar chain, 13 major and 185 minor ports and a merchant shipping fleet of over 750 ships, the security imperatives were compelling, Mr Ansari said.

''India is a UN recognised pioneer investor in deep-sea mining and has been allotted a mining area of 150,000 sq km in the central Indian Ocean. In addition, the EEZ of India is set to increase to 2.54 million sq km. Furthermore, around 20 per cent of our overall petroleum demand is met by offshore production.'' ''Environmental issues are now global themes and India has a vital stake in the approaches towards management of such matters.'' By disposition and by inherent capacities, the Vice President said India was well placed to be part of bilateral and non-discriminatory and inclusive regional and multilateral arrangements for maritime security in consonance with international law and respecting the sovereignty of littoral states.

UNI AG VD KP1641

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