January 1, 2019

Maritime connectivity and security in the Indo-Pacific

The following presentation, excerpted below, was published in "Purbasa East meets East - Synergising the North-East and Eastern India with the Indo-Pacific". 

There are perhaps few better places than Odisha to discuss India’s growing role in world affairs. After all this was the historical site of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka’s war against the Kalingas. It was after that conflict that Ashoka adopted his dhamma-his faith-grounded in Buddhism. Edicts to spread his philosophy were commissioned and displayed as far as today’s Afghanistan and Nepal and as far South as Karnataka, and they appeared in different languages including Greek and Aramaic. Contrary to popular myth, these were not declarations of Pacifism. Rather, Ashoka’s edicts called for just and limited warfare, but they also elaborated upon norms regarding how to manage conflict. He made startling claims not just about sending missionaries but about links across the Hellenistic world, as far as today’s Greece and Libya. Indeed, Ashoka’s efforts may represent the first recorded attempt in history to establishing a liberal international order. In many ways India’s recorded engagements with the world can be traced to this region.

Odisha is also proof that economics and security have always been deeply intertwined in Asia and Indian Ocean Region. European traders were initially drawn to India between the 15th and the 18th centuries by textile exports to finance the spice trade from South East Asia. The likes of Portugal and England established trading outposts- factories- along the East Coast of India. The first English outpost was in Masulipatnam in Andhra Pradesh, but their presence expanded to include such places as Pipili and Hariharpur in today’s Odisha not very far from Bhubaneshwar. The English and other Europeans tapped into existing networks established by Indian traders with South East Asia. The first East India Company vessel that arrived in Aceh found Bengali, Gujarati and Malabari traders already present. Pre- Existing trade networks already extended across a sizeable Indo- Pacific region, from Formosa to Vietnam, from Siam to Sumatra, from Malacca to the Malabar and from Gujarat to Hormuz.

Today we are rediscovering this natural commercial and political links and the Indian ocean has grown in relative importance. It is now a major conduit for sea borne International trade- which has seen a four-fold increase since 1970- between the largest centres of economic activity in the Pacific and both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Energy flows are particularly important, with about 40 percent of world oil passing through strategic checkpoints in and out of the Indian Ocean. The Ocean is also a valuable source of natural resources, accounting for 15% of the World’s fishing and significant mineral resources. This region is also important in its own right, home to two billion people in some of the fastest growing parts of the World: Southeast and South Asia, East and South Africa and West Asia.

Read the full text here.