One of the salient aspects of International relations is the politics of linkages. Coupled with the theory of soft power it has, in recent times proved highly successful, with special reference to India.
The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), formerly known as the Indian Ocean Rim Initiative and Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), is an international organization consisting of coastal states bordering the Indian Ocean. The IORA is a regional forum, tripartite in nature, bringing together representatives of Government, Business and Academia, for promoting co-operation and closer interaction among them. It is based on the principles of Open Regionalism for strengthening Economic Cooperation particularly on Trade Facilitation and Investment, Promotion as well as Social Development of the region. The Coordinating Secretariat of IORA is located at Ebene, Mauritius.
India’s shared cultural and civilization trends with this region have had a palpable effect of turning it into an area of similarities. Examples of this civilization interchange abound: the continuing veneration of Rama IX of Chakri dynasty, or the ancient kingdom of Ayutthaya in Thailand. Further, the reigning deity of the Temple of Prasat Preah Vihara of Cambodia is Lord Shiva, and the biggest Temple of the world at Angkor Wat of Cambodia is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, while the main influence of Lord Buddha on these countries is quite well-known.
Then, during last few centuries, there had been substantial migration of people from one country to the other due to various reasons. And due to such migration, there had been cultural exchange and assimilation between diverse societies. Most researchers and scholars have noted that during last two thousand years, this region has come under the influence of practically all major civilizations of the world and among these, Indian culture appears to have blended best with respective indigenous cultures. This civilization exchange has enabled to create in this region ‘a family likeness’ in this part of the globe.
Since the dawn of civilization, maritime capabilities and linkages through sea had been there between different kingdoms and countries of Indian Ocean region. In this context, the Indian Ocean, the only ocean by the name of a country had assisted in spreading the exchange of civilization far and wide. Rajendra Chola, the great Chola king of Southern India proves this argument. During the reign of Rajendra Chola, his empire controlled the ocean trade to the Far East by controlling principal ports that dotted the Malacca Strait region. Rajendra Chola’s influence is said to have extended up to the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean (during his reign, it was referred to as the Chola Lake). In an interesting coincidence, this year (2014-15) observes the 1000th year of Rajendra Chola’s ascension to the throne of the Chola Empire.
The ancient maritime exploration around Indian Ocean was more in the nature of trade, which did make impact both on the economy and the culture. This civilization bondage, evolved through an organic and gradual process had proved beneficial to various the civilization groups.
With this historical background and in accordance with the grand initiatives related to International cooperation taken by the Govt. of India under the pragmatic leadership of honorable Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi, the Institute of Social & Cultural Studies (ISCS), a major think tank based in Kolkata, India will be organizing an International Conference titled “India & the Indian Ocean: Renewing the Maritime Trade & Civilization Linkage” at the holy city of Bhubaneswar, India on 20, 21 & 22nd March, 2015.
This Conference will re-examine and re-lay the concept of “family likeness” in the backdrop of current geopolitical developments and alignments.
It has been evaluated that trade potential in this IOR region is not fully exhausted and there exists high degree of trade complementarity among the IOR economies. There is pressing need for discussing trade issues including, manufacturing sector, regional production network, protectionism, sub-regional cooperation etc. in a regional cooperation framework. In this context, the time is ripe for engaging in regular dialogues among the member countries for broader and deeper engagements in future.
Over the past few years, there has been a surge in inward and outward investment flows in the IORC. Diverse economic structure and reforms in economic policies has driven FDI inflows to the region. At the same time, some IORC economies are emerging as potential sources of FDI and other investment flows. Infrastructure development is central to the regional economic prosperity which would attract substantial chunks of long-term investment both from within the region and from the outside world. While the level of investments in different infrastructure sectors exhibit increasing trends, the need for investments for regional infrastructure investments in much higher than the current level. In addition, there is a need for proper mechanism and institutional framework for harnessing regional savings and productive deployment of those resources for building infrastructure in the region. From that perspective, there is a need for policy debate for identification of core issues concerning infrastructure investments, evaluation of existing and prospective mechanisms for channelization of regional savings, and formulation of suitable policies for streamlining foreign investment into the region. Other regional key issues may include manufacturing/services sector FDI, quality of investment; promotion of intra-regional investment; investment dialogue for improving regional investment climate, etc. among others.
Deepening of regional cooperation lies with well-devised means of regional cooperation in the framework of open regionalism. IORC representing a heterogeneous social, economic and cultural grouping may benefit enormously from sectoral cooperation in the areas of trade cooperation, disaster management, technology development, streamlining regulatory and business environment, energizing social and cultural linkages, etc. among others. A few economic sectors namely food automobiles, processed fish, parts & components and pharmaceuticals have been identified with potential for higher trade and investment in the IOR region. In this regard, all possible forms of regional cooperation would be desirable in the fields of food processing, fisheries, small and medium enterprises, and regional value chain. Comprehensive dialogue among member countries may facilitate greater integration among the regional economies.
Some of the IOR countries depend on foreign aid for supplementing their social and economic needs. Most of them continue to be the recipients of foreign aid, while a few of them are now offering development assistance individually to other countries within and outside the region. Many regional donors are located in South East Asia, South Asia, Middle East and Africa, and the volume of resources flowing from these countries is growing substantially and persistently during the past decade. India considers development cooperation is an important area of intervention for promoting regional economic disparity and cooperation. Besides receiving aid from a few donor countries, India has been contributing development assistance to a number of countries in the region and outside. There is a greater recognition of the cause of regional cooperation in mobilizing development finance for bridging development gaps and undertaking measures for capacity building and skill development in the frontier areas of economic and social development. Trade for aid can be effectively used to address the developmental needs of the region and can contribute to regional integration.