The United States has urged countries in the Indian Ocean Region to reaffirm their commitment to global rules and norms as challenges to free navigation and consensus-based dispute resolution threaten to undermine international rules.
“We are urging our partners across the Indian Ocean Region to reaffirm their commitment to a world of global rules and norms,” Alice G Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, said in her address at the third Indian Ocean Conference in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Tuesday.
The conference was organised by the India Foundation think-tank. “Together, we must make clear our determination to create an Indian Ocean Region that respects international law as reflected in the law of the sea convention, that ensures a framework for transparency and the peaceful resolution of disputes, and that supports economic, political, and social linkages with South and East Asia,” Wells said.
Challenges to free navigation and consensus-based dispute resolution threaten to undermine the international rules and norms that have allowed for unprecedented global prosperity, the transcripts of her speech released by the State Department here on Friday quoted her as saying.
In Southeast Asia, ASEAN is central to addressing these issues, and US hopes that similar structures will take on a similar role in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), she said. “Through flexible regional groupings of like-minded partners, we seek to develop best practices and standards that will encourage sustainable and transparent development that can help countries avoid cycles of debt and weakened sovereignty,” Wells said.
The US, she said, was particularly hopeful that its trilateral mechanism with India and Japan could begin to assume some of these foundational roles in the IOR. This year, the US hosted an infrastructure-working group in Washington for Indian and Japanese development experts that began to address the issues of development finance and transparency practices for the IOR.
“We also look forward to continued momentum in our quadrilateral cooperation with India, Japan and Australia that will contribute to maritime security and domain awareness across the Indian Ocean Region,” she said.
Describing the IOR as one of the most dynamic in the world, Wells said the Indo-Pacific boasts of some of the fastest growing economies on earth and is home to half of the globe’s population. “The United States government and the private sector have all along played critical roles in supporting this remarkable growth story. And we will continue to do so,” she said.
She added that the US was committed to the economic well-being of the region, which meant focusing on private sector-led investments in sectors essential to the economic future of the Indo-Pacific. Noting that government spending alone can never address the Indo-Pacific’s needs, and is not the path forward for the Indian Ocean Region, Wells said only the private sector could provide the estimated USD 26 trillion needed by 2030 for infrastructure investment in Asia.
Annually, the United States conducts two-way trade worth USD 1.4 trillion with the Indo-Pacific region, and over the past decade, Indo-Pacific foreign direct investment by American companies has doubled to about USD 940 billion last year from USD 444 billion in 2007.
In her address Wells said the United States was expanding its security engagement and cooperation across the Indo-Pacific, and particularly the IOR. “Our US INDOPACOM, with more than 380,000 military and civilian personnel, 200 ships, and nearly 2,500 aircraft are engaged in strengthening relationships across a geography that comprises seven of the world’s 10 largest militaries, nine of the world’s 10 largest ports, and some of the world’s busiest and most critical sea lanes. But we do not seek to control, dominate, or coerce. Rather, to quote Secretary Pompeo, ‘where America goes, we seek partnership, not dominion'” she said.
“Our security relationship with India, a major defence partner, is a key example of this cooperation, and the upcoming 2+2 dialogue in New Delhi will showcase this vital partnership. India holds more military exercises with the United States than with any other partner,” Wells said.
She said as part of Trump Administration’s new vision, the US will expand economic engagement, with particular attention to addressing the region’s infrastructure needs and encouraging regional inter-connectivity.
It will continue to broaden and deepen our security cooperation to address the geopolitical, transnational, and environmental threats that could derail progress in the Indian Ocean Region. “We must reaffirm our commitment to free and open air and sea-lanes, a rules-based global order, and a region where a level playing field gives every nation and every citizen the opportunity to prosper,” Wells said.