India and Vietnam Expound Principles for the Oceans and Seas

The UN Security Council (UNSC) has unanimously adopted Prime Minister Modi’s statement ‘Enhancing Maritime Security: A Case for International Cooperation’ as the ‘Presidential Statement of the Council on Maritime Security”. The Statement received strong support from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of Vietnam Pham Minh Chinh, President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Chef de Cabinet of the Secretary-General Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti.

Significantly, the Statement is the first such UNSC document that deals with the issue of maritime security “holistically and comprehensively”, given that the earlier documents of the Security Council on matters maritime security were limited in geographical scope and focused on Somalia, Gulf of Guinea, Mediterranean region. Specific issues such as drug trafficking and transnational organized crime in the maritime domain have also been addressed by the UNSC.

As the current Chair of the UNSC, Indian Prime Minister Modi lay emphasis on developing a “global roadmap” for maritime security and outlined five principles for cooperation among the Member States. These related to: (a) ‘free and open maritime trade’ including ‘respect for the rights of sailors’; (b) peaceful settlement of maritime disputes only in accordance with international law; (c) collectively respond to natural disasters and counter maritime threats created by Non-state actors; (d) preserve the maritime environment and maritime resources; and (e) responsible maritime connectivity to increase maritime trade.

Vietnam Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, in his Statement not only echoed the Five Principles, he also commended Prime Minister Modi for this initiative. He assured that Vietnam is “committed to working with India and other Council members in promoting dialogue, cooperation and mutual respect, for global peace and prosperity” and made three proposals: (a) need to develop “cohesive and effective cooperation arrangements” for a “peaceful and stable maritime environment” for sustainably utilizing the oceans and seas; (b) a network of “arrangements and initiatives for regional maritime security” led and coordinated by the United Nations for “comprehensive and holistic maritime security”; he also emphasized on “cooperation, dialogue and international law”; and above all (c) uphold legal obligations in line with international law, especially the 1982 United Nations Charter and UNCLOS.

In the context of the latter, Prime Minister Chinh made known that his country was “determined” to engage with ASEAN and China to “seriously, fully and effectively implement the 2002 Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), and negotiate an effective and substantive Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (COC) consistent with international law, in particular UNCLOS 1982”.  

Furthermore, Prime Minister Chinh lay emphasis on “climate change, sea level rise and pollution of the marine environment, especially by plastic debris and degradation of the marine ecosystem” and this resonates with Prime Minister Modi’s Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative (IPOI) announced in 2019 during the East Asian Summit at Bangkok. The IPOI is an open, inclusive, non-treaty-based global initiative for mitigating challenges especially in the maritime domain through practical cooperation in seven thematic areas i.e. (a) Maritime Security; (b) Maritime Ecology; (c) Maritime Resources; (d) Capacity Building and Resource Sharing; (e) Disaster Risk Reduction and Management; (f) Science, Technology and Academic Cooperation; and (g) Trade, Connectivity and Maritime Transport. The IPOI builds upon the “Security and Growth for All in the Region” (SAGAR) initiative also announced by Prime Minister Modi in 2015 which encourages States to conserve and sustainably use the maritime domain, and to make meaningful efforts to create a safe, secure and stable maritime domain.

There are numerous convergences in Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Chinh Statements. The December 2020 Statement on “ India - Vietnam Joint Vision for Peace, Prosperity and People” also emphasizes on exploring “new and practical collaborations to build capacities in blue economy, maritime security and safety, marine environment and sustainable use of maritime resources, and maritime connectivity, in order to ensure security and growth for all in the region”. Also, the ASEAN Outlook for Indo-Pacific (AOIP) and the IPOI are common grounds for both India and Vietnam to pursue cooperative agendas particularly for ocean governance for sustainable development of resources.

It is also useful to mention that the economic value of the oceans and seas is between US$ 3 trillion to US$ 6 trillion; however there is still insufficient knowledge about these large bodies of water. Industry 4.0 technologies can help understand the marine eco-system, its role as a ‘carbon sink’ and importantly provide real-time data of physical, chemical and biological conditions of the oceans and seas to harness the oceans and seas in sustainable manner.

In pursuit of the above it is prudent for New Delhi and Hanoi to set up a Task Force or a specialist Working Group to identify Quick Impact Projects (currently 5 per year and being expanded to 10 annually commencing FY 2021-2022) targeted on technology for development of Blue Economy / Marine Economy.

Dr Vijay Sakhuja is Consultant Kalinga International Foundation, New Delhi.

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