By : Erlangga Pratama *)
REPUBLIKA.CO.ID, For the first time since its formal establishment in 1997, the leaders of the 21-member Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) hold their summit in Jakarta. The leaders are expected to come up with concrete action plans to develop the world’s third-largest ocean, after the Pacific and the Atlantic, to follow the much earlier achievements of other seaways.
IORA, which is headquartered in Mauritius, provides vast opportunities to its members from Asia, Africa and Australia to pursue mutually beneficial cooperation despite the group’s loose status. The leaders need to avoid rapid membership expansion unless they are sure such a policy would bring about much more positive results.
The Indian Ocean is relatively little known and the least explored, compared to the two larger oceans. It is also regarded as distant, even for the people of Indonesia, whose archipelagic state lies between the Pacific and Indian oceans. Indonesia is more Pacific-oriented in terms of economy, security and diplomacy, as evident in its participation in international groupings, such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
Geographically, the United States and China do not belong to this region. And it is likely one of the key reasons why this area does not get major attention in global politics. However, China is very keen to get access to the Indian Ocean region and has made several efforts to realize its goal through Myanmar and Pakistan, which are not members of the IORA.
The Indian Ocean is strategically remarkable. International media organizations and think tank have estimated that 40 percent of the world’s offshore oil is produced in the region. It also serves as a crossroads for international shipping traffic, connecting the Northern Atlantic and Asia-Pacific regions.
The IORA leaders’ summit serves as a reminder that there are a lot of factors that could impact and upset the peace, stability and development taking place in the Indian Ocean region, which could require collaborative capacity building to prevent or resolve. All Indian Ocean nations are members of the United Nations, and therefore they should abide by the UN Charter in managing their relationships with each other. They are also signatories to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and its implementing agreements, either for seabed mining ( 1994 ) or migratory fish stock ( 1995). They should follow the provisions of the agreements while building cooperative relations among themselves, including how to maximize resources and activities of the International Sea Bed Authority (ISBA) in the Indian Ocean.
According to Hasjim Djalal, there may be problems with delimitation of maritime boundaries between Indian Ocean states as well as the limit of their jurisdictions to the open Indian Ocean. However, unlike the South China Sea, there seem to not be significant conflicting territorial claims in the Indian Ocean. Problems with maritime boundaries and jurisdiction between states in the Indian Ocean should be settled as soon as possible. These problems should be resolved by the countries through negotiation.
Other problems, such as piracy and international terrorism, used to take place frequently in the Indian Ocean, particularly off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden. Fortunately, through some kind of cooperation among states, those problems have become less frequent. Apart from climate change and a rising sea level, potential earthquakes and tsunamis remain imminent threats facing Indian Ocean countries. Finally, there are also problems of illegal migrants and human and drug trafficking among Indian Ocean countries. Efforts to build their capacity to tackle transnational crimes could involve the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migrants (IOM).
This summit will also be an ideal opportunity for President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to expand his global maritime fulcrum doctrine, including through the acceleration of his flagship maritime highway interconnection program. So far his ambitious plan has been unable to change the game in the movement of goods by sea that would otherwise significantly reduce transportation costs.
IORA summit hopes to devise collaborative programs in which others can join, including China, Taiwan and ASEAN countries that are not located in the South China Sea, with the hope that they can learn how to cooperate with South China Sea countries. The collaborative programs encourage parties involved in a conflict to seek solutions as soon as possible. The programs also seek to develop confidence-building measures among the parties concerned.
IORA leaders are set to issue the Jakarta Concord. But such a joint statement is just the beginning of a much more complicated and bumpy road to reach the group’s common goals. The IORA will only be useful for its stakeholders when it is capable of accelerating their peoples’ development. There will be no shortcut to realizing the leaders’ ambitions. Jakarta will at least produce a basic foundation to enhance cooperation among IORA members.
As the chair of the IORA, it would be ideal if Indonesia could focus on development in the Indian Ocean, either with regard to the region’s maritime resources, space and environment or its increasingly strategic position in regards to global and maritime strategy and significance.
IORA summit is a big chance to converse challenges to be opportunity since IORA’s leaders have been signed IORA concord and IORA’s action plan. IORA concord will be as base to extend cooperation between all of IORA’s members and IORA’s action plan will be implemented for IORA’s mission in these regions.
The urgency of IORA summit in Indonesia are IORA’s leaders will be accorded to implement the step of extremism and terrorism prevention. IORA summit will be strengthened and boosted to keep stability, security, infrastructures development and natural resources responsibility and sustainability process including strengthening dialogues between all members.
However, IORA have strategically positions and capabilities such as 70 percent of global trade has estimated through this regions and trading capacity has been done in this regions approximately 77 million US$ since 2015. Because of that, President Jokowi has said those are Indian Ocean Rim incredible capabilities.
Based on those capabilities, IORA’s members have commonly been together threat such as maritime security, fishery recources management, natural disasters mitigation, trade potential boosting and an investation for public walfare.
*) The author is a Cersia international affairs researcher. Lives in East Jakarta.