Statement at the 16th Indian Ocean Rim Association Council of Ministers Meeting
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
As Prepared for Delivery
Madame Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi of the Republic of Indonesia, Secretary General K.V. Bhagirath, distinguished delegates and guests, I am honored to convey to you the greetings of Secretary of State John Kerry and his appreciation to the Government of Indonesia for hosting this Meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim Association.
It is a great pleasure to represent the United States at this Meeting, joined by so many friends and partners from across the region and around the world.
The reason we have all placed importance on this institution is clear. The Indian Ocean region will increasingly play a critical role in driving the global economy, addressing global issues, and affecting global security. In fact, the United States’ rebalance to the Indo-Asia-Pacific has been based – in part – on the premise that security and prosperity in the world will be determined by what happens in this region. It is, therefore, our collective responsibility to ensure that the Indian Ocean remains an ocean of thriving economic activity, an ocean that can serve as the model for environmental stewardship, an ocean in which there is rules-based order, and, most importantly – an ocean of peace.
Friends, since becoming a Dialogue Partner in 2012 we have stressed that the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) can play a vital role in the multilateral regional architecture that the Indian Ocean needs. IORA is asking the right questions and is initiating the right discussions about how to best ensure a prosperous and secure future for the region. IORA members face many challenges but are well-placed to undertake collective action and regional cooperation. In this regard, we look forward to seeing continued efforts to develop the IORA Concord.
The United States also welcomes IORA’s increased consideration of the role of Dialogue Partners and how we might contribute to regional projects. As we have said at prior Council of Ministers Meetings, IORA has the potential to help create a shared Indian Ocean consciousness among the Indian Ocean countries of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, and Oceania. It is up to IORA to craft its own unique identity, set its own priorities, and strengthen its common voice, and the United States stands ready for increased engagement.
We clearly see an enhanced commonality of interests between IORA Members and Dialogue Partners – particularly on maritime security and sustainable development of the ocean. Friends, we face significant continuing security challenges. Among these are illicit trafficking of drugs, wildlife, weapons, and, not least, the terrible tragedy of human trafficking – all of which require a determined and coordinated response. Transnational terrorism also remains a persistent and pernicious threat, and it is our shared responsibility to counter this threat, particularly the movements, messaging, and financing of foreign terrorist fighters. We urge Members and Dialogue Partners to continue their support to existing bilateral and multilateral mechanisms to counter transnational threats and explore new avenues for cooperation.
Just last month many IORA Members joined Secretary Kerry in Washington, D.C. for the Our Ocean conference, which highlighted ocean conservation and economic challenges facing all nations, as well as offering opportunities for greater collaboration to meet these challenges. The conservation commitments made at this year’s conference were impressive, equaling roughly 5.3 billion dollars and including more than 1.5 million square kilometers of new marine protected areas – a major collective step forward in protecting our oceans, and our future.
Another key initiative of the Our Ocean conference was the Safe Ocean Network, which seeks to strengthen all aspects of the fight against illegal fishing. The Our Ocean conference also stressed the importance of developing the Blue Economy in accordance with science-based conservation and sustainable management of ocean and coastal resources and ecosystems.
I encourage the IORA Secretariat and all Member States and Dialogue Partners to participate in the next scheduled Our Ocean conference that the European Union will host next year, and we very much appreciate Indonesia’s agreement to host the subsequent conference in 2018.
Let me conclude by encouraging IORA to think expansively about not just its regional role, but its global role. Last year, the United States welcomed IORA’s observer status at the United Nations. We believe that a key part of strengthening IORA as an institution means strengthening its voice at other forums. As the Indian Ocean region’s position in the global economy continues to expand, so too will its political voice. We believe IORA can play a role not only as a place to express that voice, but also as a place to shape it.