The Centre for Foreign Policy and Security Studies, Gujarat National Law University in collaboration with the Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi organised an international conference On "India's Foreign Relations - Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean: Strengthening the Political, Economic, Security and Cultural Prospects" 12-13 September 2014.
With the changing international scenario in terms of the level of economic, social and military development, the foreign policy also has to orient and re-orient itself to provide appropriate external environment conducive for the growth and stability of a country. Further, challenges arise in pursuing foreign policy from conflicts at international level as they can’t be eliminated from the international society as continuation of conflicts constitutes the essence of international politics. As far as Southeast Asia in India’s foreign policy is concerned, the objectives appear to be three-fold: One, to institutionalize linkages with ASEAN and its affiliates; two, to strengthen bilateral relationships with member-states of ASEAN; and three, to carve a niche for itself in Southeast Asia both politically and economically. Furthermore, the UN General Assembly resolution in 1971 declaring the Indian Ocean “for all time as a zone of peace” and latter in September 1970, the Lusaka Conference of the nonaligned countries adopted a declaration “calling upon all states to consider and respect the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace from which great power rivalries and competition as well as bases conceived in the context of such rivalries and competition, either army, navy or airforce bases, are excluded.” Given this background of Indian Ocean, it is significant to address some of the critical questions and also make attempt to find out the problem and prospects of the Indian Ocean.
The seminar was inaugurated by General (Retd.) V.K Singh, Minister of state of External Affairs and the guest of honor was Lieutenant General D B Shekatkar, PVSM, AVSM, VSM and Professor Dr.Bimal Patel, Director of GNLU.
Dr. Aruna Kumar Malik started off the two day conference with his inaugural speech emphasizing on the significance of the conference for which GNLU have received over 81 abstracts from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Dr. Bimal Patel addressed the gathering stating various important aspects related to the Indian Foreign Policy. And also briefly described the achievements of GNLU in this calendar year which included drafting of various laws for the Govt of India, introduction of the Microsoft IPR chair in the University, training of over 300 officers through the continuous workshops conducted in the University.
Lieutenant General D B Shekatkar, PVSM, AVSM, VSM , a distinguished soldier and commander with a vast experience in combating insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast graced the occasion with his address. He spoke with a certain concern for the young generation and also explained the need for sustainable development for the ‘Young Dear Students’. He empahsised on India’s role in the new emerging world order. Further, he expressed the various threats which is prevailing in the space and the sea and why the study of the same will help in the betterment of the Nation as a whole. As he said, ‘Anyone who will control the sea and the space will control the world’. So basically in his opinion, the foreign policies should be designed with an inclination to the national interest. His speech ended with the inspirational quote ‘dreams are those which doesn’t let you sleep’.
Mr. Asit Singh (IRS – 1990 Batch) discussed various projects which are being undertaken by the government of India which included construction of highways which will connect India with Burma and Thailand. He also, discussed the importance of modern infrastructure for strengthening India’s Foreign Relations.
The Chief Guest General(Retd) Vijay Kumar Singh, PVSM, AVSM, YSM, presently the Minister of State of External Affairs and Minister of State (independent charge) for North East Region, in the National Democratic Alliance government lightened up the mood by praising the campus research facilities and the ongoing projects. He also, shared his immense experience with the audience over the ministry affairs and the functioning of the army. Although not considering himself as a professional politician he is confident that the new government has clear motives and promises to deliver – which can be seen with the work done in the field of Foreign Policy within a short span of time. He also, added that there is also a sensitive side to the foreign policies which is being disturbed quite often and the reason for that being nothing but poor deliverance. Importance of the north-eastern states was emphasised and the efforts by the government is to undertaken various projects in the region so as to uplift them to the minimum level of trade and industries domestically as well as with the neighbouring countries.
The inaugural session was followed by a panel discussion. The keynote address was presented Mr Sheshadri Chari, Secretary-General, Forum for Integrated National Security. The other speakers were Dr. Vijay Sakhuja, Director, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi; Dr. V. Sanjeevan, Former Director, Ministry of Earth Sciences, New Delhi; Prof. P.V. Rao, Director, Centre for Ocean Studies, Osmania University, Hyderabad; Dr. Shamshad Khan, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
The Conference was divided into 4 sessions spanning 2 days. In all there were about 120 participants from all over the country. About 40 papers were presented by participants.
The first session focused on the past, present and future of the look east policy. The speakers highlighted that the look east policy can be effected by better and larger cooperation between nations on several issues such as maritime security, humanitarian and disaster relief, terrorism , cross border trade etc. This will enable them to establish goodwill and revive the look east policy with futuristic modifications. The modifications can be brought about by increasing partnerships in the IOR which has been gaining increasing prominence.
The parallel session saw papers with a focus on special nations among India’s partners like China, Nepal, Japan, Paklistan etc. there were interesting presentations which focused on China’s impacts in the region and its effects on India’s partnerships with nations. The speakers concluded that there is a need for all partners to converge on issues of importance. The speakers then focused on specific issues like smuggling and trafficking and its rise in the Indian Ocean and thus the need for countries to engage. A very pertinent issue of water and diplomacy in the SAARC region was brought to the forefront in this conference.
The next topic was India’s responsibility with respect to its IORA members and the need to counter China’s growing influence in the region. Various suggestions ranging from cooperation with China on issues of common interest like security and strengthening India’s presence in ASEAN or increase economic cooperation in the IOR.
The parallel session focused on India’s influence as a strategic partner in ASEAN with a special focus on partner nations like Myanmar, Bangladesh etc. Such nations can be used to establish a link between India and ASEAN to solve priority issues related to energy. The underlying theme had been the need to revisit our policies relating to the North East. Engagement with the North Eastern Regions can emerge as a breakthrough for recognizing India’s economic potential and solve its security issues.
The second day saw the conference focus on issues like promotion of cultural aid and IT diplomacy as new options. The speakers highlighted the role of China which is merging as global centre of power. China’s grasp on the region now ranges from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean. Thus the best way to find any solution is to look at India and China’s relation in the light of the IOR.
The last session focused on maritime security and threats in the IOR like piracy and energy diplomacy. The papers gave an example of Malacca Straits and its effects on the energy flows. The trade flow in IOR amounts to 2/3 of total world flows. The issue of piracy is of extreme importance which had emerged in the IOR due to groups in Malaysia and Indonesia. This needs to be resolved with a partnership among littoral states. Another important issue is energy transportation which takes place mainly through the Indian Ocean. India has a diversified energy requirement ranging from oil, natural gas and uranium for which it needs to wider cooperation.
The conclusion arrived at from the fruitful discussion in all these sessions is that there is a need for India to increase security in the IOR so that its economic, political and diplomatic interest are maintained along with that of its partners. This can be done through new ways using tools of culture, IT etc. which can help to revive the Look East Policy.