The Indian Ocean: an Ocean that Matters

  • Op-ed
08 January 2019

By Senator Marise Payne, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs

Also published in Financial Express.

In recent months, the Australian Government has outlined a bold vision for stepping up our engagement with the Pacific and South East Asia. This is further deepening our relationship with the peoples of the Indo-Pacific and is helping build a stronger and more resilient neighbourhood. Our engagement with ASEAN is going from strength to strength, as witnessed by the historic ASEAN-Australia Leaders' Summit in Sydney in March and the Prime Minister's November summit with ASEAN leaders in Singapore.

Just as we are delivering in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, we are also deepening Australia's engagement in the Indian Ocean, which is experiencing rapid economic change and increased strategic competition. The Indian Ocean is of vital importance to Australia's interests in the Indo-Pacific.

The Indian Ocean region is already home to forty per cent of the world's population as well as five of our top 20 trading partners. Australia's Blue Economy, which includes the Indian Ocean, contributes close to $50 billion per year to our economy, through industries such as offshore oil and gas, tourism, aquaculture, shipping and commercial fishing. By 2025, we expect this figure to be closer to $100 billion per year.

India is set to become the world's third largest economy by 2030 and reaching this goal will see India as a key driver of continued global economic growth.

India is also the world's fastest growing major economy and is predicted to remain so for another decade. The economic prospects of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia are similarly significant.

There is no other market which will offer as many opportunities over the next two decades than India.

In November, with India's President Kovind in Sydney, Prime Minister Scott Morrison committed to implementing the India Economic Strategy, a comprehensive blueprint for Australia to realise the benefits of India's enormous economic potential over the coming decades.

Australia has appointed Ministerial Champions for the lead sectors of education, agribusiness, resources and tourism. Australia excels in these areas, and our expertise can help complement India's continued economic growth.

With our trade-dependent economy, the continued peaceful development of the Indian Ocean and unimpeded access to its thriving markets will be an important driver of our prosperity.

At this week's Raisina Dialogue I will outline Australia's commitment to supporting a secure, open, inclusive and prosperous Indian Ocean region.

Australia is taking a multi-tiered approach, investing more bilaterally, regionally and through minilateral forums, to shape the strategic and economic environment in the Indian Ocean region for the benefit of all nations.

For example, the Indian Ocean region will be the focus for Australia's Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019 (IPE19), our largest annual naval deployment, with five ships and 1400 personnel. Engagement with India will be the cornerstone for IPE19, with our bilateral navy exercise AUSINDEX at its centre.

Moreover, the scale of defence engagement between Australia and India has grown significantly in recent years. In 2014, Australian and India conducted 11 major defence activities together; in 2018 this figure has climbed to 38.

This reflects the growing convergence between Australian and Indian interests across the spectrum, including on strategic and economic cooperation.

At a regional level, Australia has been investing considerable effort strengthening the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the region's only ministerial level forum and which includes 22 member states. IORA is an important vehicle for advancing cooperation in areas such as maritime safety and security, women's economic empowerment and the blue economy.

We are also active participants in the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium and the Heads of Asian Coastguard Agencies Meeting, which we will chair in 2020.

At the same time, Australia is pursuing new and innovative minilateral initiatives to build the web of regional cooperation. We have been working with India and Indonesia to explore avenues for increased trilateral cooperation in the Indian Ocean, just as we have been doing with India and Japan. We are also working quadrilaterally with India, Japan and the United States, in support of a resilient, peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

Australia believes the Indian Ocean region can be ambitious in the development of its architecture and an enduring sense of community. ASEAN provides a positive example of how regional groupings of diverse nations can facilitate greater cooperation, and its success may be a useful template for the Indian Ocean nations to explore over the long term.

Through Australia's multi-tiered approach to increasing our engagement, we are helping to lay the foundations for a stronger and more resilient region that can address the challenges of tomorrow.

Senator Marise Payne is the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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