First, I would like to extend my deepest thanks to our chair and host, the UAE. We experienced warm Emirati hospitality last night. Under your steady chairmanship for the next two years, I am confident that IORA will consolidate our resources and grow from strength to strength. I would also like to express my greatest appreciation to South Africa, our tireless Chair for the past two years. South Africa’s leadership will continue to be vital in taking IORA forward.
The Indian Ocean is physically the most diverse of the world’s three major oceans. In some ways, this is reflected in the geographical reach and diversity of IORA’s membership. This diversity is our valuable currency. Each of us bring unique strengths and invaluable perspectives to this gathering. Against the backdrop of growing geopolitical and economic uncertainty, it is even more crucial for IORA to stay relevant to members’ needs so as to enhance regional cooperation. I would, therefore, like to highlight three key challenges.
First, climate change, an existential issue for many of us. The Indian Ocean is warming faster than any other tropical ocean over the last century. This will affect rainfall, the marine food web of the Indian Ocean and alter weather patterns, impacting our livelihoods. Climate change mitigation and adaptation is a long journey and requires partnership with other countries.
There is no one size fits all solution. For instance, solar power is often touted as a viable alternative energy source for countries. However, despite being a tropical country, solar energy is not cost efficient for Singapore because of the cloud cover that we have. We must continue to find ways to work together to tackle climate change. Under the Singapore Cooperation Programme’s Climate Action Package, we offer priority placement to IORA member states to participate in courses that aim to develop capacity in a range of climate change issues. Through the sharing of experiences and best practices, we hope that all IORA countries can uplift our disaster management capabilities and be better prepared for natural disasters and extreme weather.
The second challenge we are seeing an erosion of the global consensus on the benefits of globalisation, and decline in support for multilateralism. The Indian Ocean is an important lifeline to international trade and transport to many of us. We have been able to tap on the sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean for economic growth. This was premised on a rules-based international order that is open and inclusive.
Likewise, trade agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) reinforce the open, rules–based multilateral trading system and should not be viewed as a zero-sum game. Member States stand to benefit from increased trade flows and expanded markets. Amidst this uncertainty, it is crucial for regional organisations like IORA to continue championing the open rules-based multilateral system. We must persist in our efforts to foster an open regional architecture.
Maritime Safety and Security
This brings me to my third point on the growing maritime security threats in the Indian Ocean. Our region has been facing increasingly complex maritime issues which threaten security and economic activities. The Indian Ocean faces threats such piracy, armed robbery, terrorism, and smuggling.
The littoral states have a collective responsibility to tackle these issues.
In the early 2000s, piracy incidents were rising in the Malacca Straits. There were 38 incidents in 2004, and the Lloyd’s Joint War Committee had listed the Malacca Straits as a “war-risk” area. To ensure maritime security, our countries established the Malacca Straits Patrol or (MSP) framework in 2004. Under the MSP, member countries conduct coordinated sea and maritime air patrols, and share information for sense-making and coordinating of real-time responses. The success of the MSP was evident. Piracy incidents fell, and by 2006, the Lloyd’s Joint War Risk Committee decided to drop the “war-risk” classification for the Malacca Straits. The number of incidents continued to fall – from 20 in 2007 to 8 in 2019.
Singapore also shares information through our Information Fusion Centre or IFC. The IFC’s network of International Liaison Officers and Operations Centre linkages to navies, coast guards and other maritime agencies facilitates operational cooperation. This allows us to cue and coordinate responses to threats such as piracy, maritime terrorism and illegal smuggling and trafficking. We welcome IORA member states and dialogue partners to make use of our IFC to promote maritime safety and security in the region.
Upgrading the IORA Secretariat
The issues I have highlighted require collective effort and solutions. To achieve this, quality human capital is essential. Singapore has been a strong advocate for investing in human capital. In line with the recent discussions, Singapore recognises the need to strengthen the IORA Secretariat’s capabilities to better support our work. I am happy to announce that Singapore will be arranging programmes on public finance and project management for the IORA Secretariat and IORA members.
I would like to conclude by reiterating the strategic importance of IORA in maintaining the peace and stability of the region. In order to do so, we must collectively work together on pressing issues and remain relevant. Singapore looks forward to working with the UAE to carry on the good work started by the previous chairs and take the Indian Ocean into a new era of prosperity.
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MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
7 NOVEMBER 2019