CHENNAI: Vannakam ! Good Afternoon, I am delighted to welcome members of the media for this press conference on the “Maritime Trade and Security Conference,” which starts tomorrow. It also gives me great pleasure to welcome David Michel, from The Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington D.C.; and Dr. P.K. Ghosh from the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.
In association with the U.S. Consulate General Chennai, The Henry L. Stimson Center and the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) have organized a three-day maritime trade and security conference entitled “Sea Change: Evolving Maritime Geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific Region.” Due to India’s large maritime border facing both East and West, the first stop for the conference is Chennai for the next two days and then it’s on to Kochi for a one-day conference on Thursday June 12th.
The waters of the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific represent an increasingly critical avenue for world trade and arena for international diplomacy. The Indo-Pacific region is rapidly emerging as a key focus of maritime geopolitics.
Secretary John Kerry during his visit to India for the Strategic Partnership dialogue in June 2013 remarked, “Our security interests with India converge on a wide range of maritime and broader regional issues, and we value India’s role in our mutual efforts to ensure a stable and prosperous Asia.”
Growing prosperity in Asia, mounting dependence on natural resource flows linking producers and consumers around the Middle East and Africa across to the Pacific Rim, and globalized supply chains and distribution networks are knitting the region ever more closely together by sea, transforming the Indo-Pacific into a major crossroads for multiple maritime security, economic, and policy issues.
At the same time, persistent problems ranging from piracy on the open ocean and weak and failing states on shore, to prospective rivalries among rising naval powers, territorial disputes in the regional seas, and intensifying environmental pressures on marine and coastal infrastructure and resources, pose significant governance challenges for all of us.
To quote Tom Kelly, the U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, “The security and prosperity of the United States are inextricably linked to the peaceful development of the Asia-Pacific, including in the maritime domain. You don’t get trade with Asia without open sea lanes.”
He also said, “Increasingly the sea lanes are really the veins and capillaries of global capitalism, and they simply cannot function if maritime security isn’t established in the world’s most important waterways.”
Maritime security is a global issue with numerous stakeholders having varying interests. Cooperation and coordination are required on a multilateral and bilateral level between nations working alongside international organizations and nongovernmental organizations.
How policymakers negotiate the choices, obstacles, and opportunities arising in these shifting geopolitical seas will significantly determine the future of the Indo-Pacific region. Many important issues overlap or intertwine.
Increasing exchanges of goods, people, resources, and ideas across this region are fueling vital global growth and driving beneficial regional integration. However, where there are rewards, there are also threats and possible vulnerabilities. The very sea lanes that are critical to international trade and business can also represent potential chokepoints.
In order to explore these critical issues, the Stimson Center and the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), in association with the U.S. Consulate General Chennai, have partnered to organize this week’s international conference on maritime geopolitics, trade, and security in the Indo-Pacific.
The conference brings together experts from India, the United States, Australia, China, and other Indo-Pacific region countries. Together they will address the security, socio-economic, commercial and environmental trends and challenges affecting the Indo-Pacific region and more importantly, possible solutions to these challenges.
Therefore, hosting this conference in South India, specifically Chennai and Kochi, was an obvious choice. India’s unique geography and location truly place it at a crossroads for the Indo-Pacific region and it is poised to be an even more influential partner to its neighbors and the United States when it comes to maritime security and trade in the 21st century.
To quote our Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, Nisha Desai Biswal, who visited India in March, “Blessed by the Arabian Sea on one side; the Bay of Bengal on the other; astride the busiest sea lanes in the world; and I think you’d agree one of the most entrepreneurial societies in the world, India has tremendous possibilities.”
After the conference, there will be a readout of the conference for senior policy analysts in New Delhi at ORF. And over the next several months, Stimson and ORF will craft and publish a volume of conference papers containing rigorous analyses, offering pragmatic policy insights for decision-makers. It will, in essence, provide a practical compass for navigating the evolving maritime geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific.
Finally, I would like to mention that next week, in Washington, DC, our Secretary of State John Kerry will host the “Our Ocean” Conference. This conference will bring together individuals, experts, practitioners, advocates, lawmakers, and the international ocean and foreign policy communities to gather lessons learned, share the best science, offer unique perspectives, and demonstrate effective actions on three areas: sustainable fisheries, marine pollution, and ocean acidification. We welcome you to follow the conference and join this conversation next week at ourocean2014.state.gov. For as Secretary Kerry states, “We can protect the ocean if we all start treating it like our ocean.”
We’d also like to invite you this week to follow us on Twitter where we will be promoting discussions via social media using the handles #MaritimeChennai and #MaritimeKochi.
We also have several speakers from the conference with us here today, including Mr. Dan Millison from Transcendergy, L.L.C.; Commodore Vasan; Dr. Geeta Madhavan, Attorney; Mr. N. Sathiya Moorthy, Director, Observer Research Foundation (ORF) Chennai Chapter; and Dr. Lawrence Prabhakar, Associate Professor, Madras Christian College. Please feel free to chat with these distinguished guests after the press conference or during lunch.
At this time I’d like to hand over the floor to Dr. David Michel, who is the Director of the Environmental Security Program at The Stimson Center, to say a few words about the conference and its importance.
Now, I’d like to Dr. PK Ghosh from ORF for his welcome remarks.
At this time, I’d like to open it up for your questions.