GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Amb. Talmiz
Title of Paper:
Integrating the GCC Countries in a New Indian Ocean Economic and Security Architecture: An Indian Diplomatic Initiative
Paper Proposal Text :
The Indian Ocean is the world’s third largest ocean, after the Pacific and the Atlantic. It measures 9600 km from the Bay of Bengal to the Antarctic and 7800 km from South Africa to Western Australia. Its total area of 21.45 million square nautical miles constitutes 20 percent of the world’s water surface. It has a total coastline of 70,000 km. The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is home to about 36 countries, with 35 percent of the world’s population and 40 percent of the world’s coastline.
The Indian Ocean is at the centre of global commerce in that 30 percent of global containerised cargo traverses through it, while 42 percent of global crude oil, product and distillate is lifted from and within the region. The IOR has over 50 percent each of global oil reserves and global proven gas reserves. The ocean also accommodates the about 20 percent of the world’s refining facilities, spread across the Gulf region (mainly Jubail in Saudi Arabia), Jamnagar in Gujarat, and Singapore. The world’s busiest sea-lane on the global east-west trade route passes through the northern Indian Ocean, making it “the world’s foremost maritime geostrategic and trading inter-connectors”.
Economic connectivities across the Indian Ocean region, including energy, trade, investments, and human resources, are already so substantial and diverse that it would accurate to describe them as together constituting the “New Silk Roads” of the 21st century. Some important aspects of these links are:
• Today, 55 percent of Asian crude is being consumed in Asia as is 95 percent of the gas; by 2040, 90 percent of West Asian oil production will be consumed in Asia;
• India today gets 80 percent of its oil from the Gulf while China gets 70 percent; Japan and South Korea get over 90 percent of their oil imports from the Gulf;
• 30 percent of global trade is now South-South; the total trade of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries with Asian countries is over 40 percent;
• By 2021, 20 percent of GCC overseas investments will be in Asia;
• China, Japan and South Korea are executing major projects in the GCC countries, valued at over $ 200 billion
• India has a community of eight million residing in the six GCC countries that sends home about $ 35 billion annually.
The Indian Ocean is important for the economic interests of all the countries that make up its littoral. India is at the centre of the ocean: it has a coastline of 7500 km and 13 major ports; 90 percent of its exports are sea-borne as are all its energy imports from the Gulf and Africa.
China too has a deep interest in Indian Ocean security since 70 percent of its oil imports and almost all its trade is sea-borne. It has a special interest in ensuring that the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca remain open to maritime movements, without threat from pirates or hostile actions of regional or external powers.
Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia, as littoral states, have similar interests in ocean security, mainly due to the threat from piracy but now increasingly from concerns emerging from China’s expanding naval power and its assertive claims in the South China Sea.
The USA has traditionally been the guarantor of maritime security in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Now, seeing a challenge to the security order led by it from a “rising” China, the US announced a “pivot” of its military forces from West Asia to the Pacific. It has also heightened its diplomatic engagements with the principal regional powers to build up coalitions to balance China.
Clearly, the long-term economic interests of the GCC countries are deeply enmeshed with the countries of the Indian Ocean littoral, even as the latter have an abiding interest in the security and stability of West Asia. However, even as the US is indicating a steady disengagement from West Asia, the western side of the Indian Ocean is witnessing tension and conflict, at the heart of which is the competition between the Islamic giants, Saudi Arabia and Iran, for regional influence.
China has now dramatically sought to re-shape the regional scenario by linking both Eurasia and the Indian Ocean littoral with its “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative. This initiative embraces the entire IOR and envisages a prominent place for the GCC countries and Iran.
While Chinese officials and commentators have firmly and frequently stated that this initiative is purely economic in character, is founded on regional cooperation and has no geopolitical content, many countries, including India and several ASEAN members, see OBOR as a manifestation of China’s pursuit of its strategic interests in the IOR, a region that India has seen as its “natural sphere of influence”. Indian concerns articulated at various fora seem to have led to an acceptance in China of the need to review its presentation of the initiative so that it obtains wider acceptance.
The challenge before Indian diplomacy is therefore not only to pursue stability in West Asia through promotion of confidence-building measures, but to bring the GCC into the wider Indian Ocean framework. This would require the re-shaping of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), at present solely committed to promoting economic cooperation, into a body that becomes a platform for interaction on security issues, possibly on the lines of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), but with the additional mandate to integrate the maritime projects of OBOR (referred to as the “Maritime Silk Road”) into the agenda of the IORA.
This development (IORA + OBOR) will address three separate sets of security concerns that today bedevil the IOR: (a) concerns of the ASEAN countries regarding Chinese claims in the South China Sea; (b) the emerging competition between China and India in the IOR, and (c) GCC-Iran differences that have led to so much conflict and bloodshed in West Asia. In pursuing this initiative, India would need to work closely with the major littoral states to shape a new “Indian Ocean Order”.