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Keynote address by Secretary (East) at the BIMSTEC Coastal Security Workshop (November 20, 2019)

November 20, 2019

Excellencies,

I warmly welcome the delegates from BIMSTEC Countries for the Coastal Security Workshop.

Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) constitutes a unique link between South Asia and South-East Asia. There are five members from South Asia (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka) and two from South-East Asia (Myanmar and Thailand). BIMSTEC region brings together 1.67 billion people and a combined GDP of US $3.71 trillion.

The significance attached by India to BIMSTEC, as part of our "Neighbourhood First” Policy and in the spirit of "Act East”, was for all to see - Leaders of BIMSTEC Countries attended the swearing-in of our Honourable Prime Minister during his second term on 30 May 2019. You may also recall the BIMSTEC Outreach Summit held on the sidelines of Goa BRICS Summit in 2016, which imparted momentum to the BIMSTEC process.

The 4th Summit at Kathmandu in August 2018 was an important milestone for BIMSTEC as well as for regional cooperation. It was significant in terms of the structural and institutional direction it provided to BIMSTEC for deepening our regional cooperation in the key sectors. These include security & counter-terrorism; multi-modal connectivity; trade and people-to-people relations; environment & disaster management; agriculture and tourism; Mountain and Blue Economy.

We believe that regional connectivity and trade are imperative for the shared prosperity and economic growth of the entire BIMSTEC region. The fact is also that - whether maritime or landlocked, BIMSTEC countries depend on maritime trade for their economic development.

Ports are gateways for imports/exports and are also centres of economic activity. Regular interaction, exchanges and coordination among ports of BIMSTEC region will play a role in enlarging trade and commerce, as well as promoting coastal shipping. The first ever "BIMSTEC Conclave of Ports” was held recently at Vishakhapatnam on 7-8 November 2019. We are happy that at this Conclave three MoUs between Ranong Port of Thailand on the West Coast and the Ports of Chennai, Vishakhapatnam and Kolkata on the Indian East Coast were signed. This will cut down travel time on the seas between India and Thailand from 10-15 days to 7 days, providing for better and quicker connectivity and trade flow besides strengthening maritime ties.

However, while providing unhindered sea lanes of communications and economic integration of the region, we have to be mindful about security challenges both at sea and to our coastlines. These include non traditional threats such as trafficking of narcotics, weapons and people; illegal exploitation of natural resources; piracy and sea based terrorism, damage caused by natural disasters and issues of environmental degradation and climatological changes.

Cooperation in the security domain has been considered of special salience under BIMSTEC. The Meeting of BIMSTEC National Security Chiefs has been structured; as an annual feature. They have met thrice, in 2017 in New Delhi, 2018 in Dhaka and 2019 in Bangkok and have underscored the importance of recognizing the Bay of Bengal as common security space and agreed to collectively work to deal with challenges. In the last three years, close security cooperation has not only continued but has also diversified and it now includes maritime security cooperation, Cyber-security, harnessing emerging space technologies for addressing security challenges, Humanitarian Assistance and disaster relief; among others. Under BIMSTEC, cooperation against terrorism has been formalized under a Joint Working Group for Counter-terrorism and Transnational Crime which has advanced cooperation in the critical areas of Intelligence Sharing, Combating Financing of Terrorism, Drugs Trafficking and Cooperation on Countering Radicalization.

Specifically speaking of the trans-national nature of the maritime domain, it necessitates collaborative efforts at sea amongst partner nations. As seas are the global commons, these should be kept safe and secure for all legitimate users, thus ensuring that the larger maritime community benefits from collaborative and inclusive approach. India established the Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) at Gurugram in December 2018. This Centre is envisaged to be a regional hub for maritime information sharing and is presently interacting with 18 countries and 15 maritime security centres. The IFC-IOR conducted the maiden maritime information sharing workshop in June 2019 which saw participation from 29 countries including all four coastal nations of BIMSTEC. To take forward this maritime cooperation, BIMSTEC Coastal Security Workshop is now being held, I am confident that this Coastal Security Workshop will bolster maritime cooperation and information sharing with full understanding of maritime concerns and threats which are prevalent in the region.

India’s approach is focussed on the vision of our Hon’ble Prime Minister of SAGAR, i.e,providing "Security and Growth for all in the Region”.

I once again welcome every one of you on this wonderful occasion and wish for a very successful BIMSTEC Coastal Security Workshop.

*****

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