CHENNAI: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning! On behalf of the U.S. Consulate General, I welcome you to this important conference in the thoroughly apropos location of Chennai.
Three years ago, in July 2011,then U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a historic trip to Chennai.
Addressing a huge public gathering here, she stated: “In this port city, looking out at the Bay of Bengal and beyond to the nations of East and Southeast Asia, we are easily reminded of India’s historic role in the wider region. For thousands of years, Indian traders have sailed those waters of Southeast Asia and beyond. Indian culture has left its mark.” The documented history of Indian maritime engagements dates back over 6,000 years.
The well-known dynasties of Chola, Chera and Pandya that ruled this part of India dating back to two millennia ago had a robust maritime trade with the Far East, including Burma and Java.
So from a historian’s view point, this conference actually is merely a continuation of regional connectivity initiatives stretching back centuries on these coasts.
This age-old goal of expanding trade now is joined by our 21st century challenges of ensuring security and safe transit of our waterways, establishing international maritime rules of engagement, and protecting and conserving our maritime resources – all focus areas of discussion over the next few days.
In the area of promoting trade, India’s ‘Look East’ policy established in 1991, placed a focus on developing significant partnerships in the region. Today India is building closer and deeper economic ties with its eastern neighbors, expanding regional markets and increasing both investments and business ties. Published statistics cite India’s trade with Southeast Asia as reaching 76 billion dollars in 2012-2013.
And enhanced economic engagements in Southeast Asia have resulted in the revitalizing and expanding of road, air, and sea links between India, Bangladesh, Burma, and the rapidly expanding economies of ASEAN.
Nonetheless, by some measures, South Asia remains the least economically connected region in the world today. So there is a lot of potential for expanded opportunities. Improved linkages and infrastructure investments between the economies of South Asia and Southeast Asia will be a critical component to integrating regional markets; accelerating economic development; and strengthening regional stability.
This growth in connectivity in the Asian-Pacific region is a priority for the United States, and with good reason: the U.S. realized over $500 billion dollars in U.S. exports to the region last year which supported 2.8 million jobs in America.
So the security and prosperity of the United States is also inextricably linked to the peaceful development of Asia and the Asian waterways.
To quote Tom Kelly, our U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, “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 connectivity is also essential to India’s security and prosperity. It’s important to note that by volume, 90% of the goods India trades are carried by sea. And, just as the U.S. exports to the Asia create U.S. jobs, Indian exports to the U.S. and the region generate economic activity and jobs here. We both gain from greater commercial interactions with and between the countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
Toward this end, within APEC, and as part of our ongoing rebalance toward Asia, the United States has been working to strengthen regional economic integration; to promote energy cooperation, private sector investments, and educational exchange; to reduce barriers to trade and investment; to improve connectivity; and to support sustainable growth.
The United States is also working with regional economies on a Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which will ultimately lead to APEC’s goal of building a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. These realization of these shared objectives of economic integration, free trade and prosperity, require that the sea lanes throughout the Indo-Pacific remain open and secure.
For that we need effective maritime security in the region. The key to effective security is effective partnerships. Our countries’ Navies have a huge role to play in ensuring the security of the Asia-Pacific sea lanes.
The United States is actively involved in a variety of partnerships specifically dealing with maritime security in the Indo-Pacific. For example, the U.S. most recently joined the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia, or ReCAAP.
In 2009, the United States helped establish the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. As we all know, this piracy threatened trade flows to and from Asia. Working together to establish multi-national naval patrols and to prosecute and incarcerate pirates has effectively checked this menace to trade and security.
As a founding member of this group, India has shown great leadership in confronting and combating piracy stemming from Somalian waters. Today, the Contact Group includes more than 80 nations, non-governmental and international organizations, industry, and civil society groups, working together to fight piracy.
Thanks to the collective efforts of the international community, Somali pirate attacks declined 75 percent from 2011 to 2012, and there has not been a major incident of pirate attack in the Indian Ocean in nearly two years.
However, our collective gains against piracy are not irreversible, and the international community needs to maintain concerted efforts and cooperation to continue to suppress piracy.
Maritime security cooperation is a key component of U.S.– India defense and strategic cooperation.
Our defense relationship today encompasses military-to-military dialogues, exercises, defense sales, professional military education exchanges, and practical cooperation.
I note that in just my three years as Consul General, the U.S. Consulate has had the opportunity in Chennai to support the shore activities for two of our impressive bilateral Malabar exercises.
These annual MALABAR exercises are part of a continuing series of exchanges between the U.S. and Indian navies to advance maritime relationships and mutual security cooperation to include in areas of humanitarian operations and search and rescue.
Finally, we cannot forget our commitment to protect our shared environment, and our shared seas. Our maritime resources are just too important to ignore.
Accordingly, next week, Secretary of State John Kerry will host the “Our Ocean” Conference in Washington DC, which will bring together individuals, experts, practitioners, advocates, lawmakers, and the international ocean and foreign policy communities to share perspectives, lessons learned, and scientific insights, on effective actions and cooperation on issues such as sustainable fisheries, marine pollution, and ocean acidification.
Similarly, at this conference, a panel will discuss natural resources and environmental challenges in areas of energy fisheries and minerals and climate change.
In conclusion, I think this is a timely conference, in the right place, at the right time.
I would like to recognize the presence of Inspector General Sharma, Commander of India’s Coast Guard Region East; and Commodore Amar Mahadevan, Naval Officer in Charge (NOIC) Tamil Nadu, Chennai. We thank you both for your support.
Once again I welcome all of you to Chennai and South India, and wish you productive sessions over the next few days of thought-provoking deliberations on Maritime Trade and Security in the Indo-Pacific.