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What's in a name' An ocean-full of opportunity

Posted on Oct 28, 07:08PM | IANS

In the alphabet of global geopolitics bristling with new power clubs such as BRICS and IBSA, the IOR-ARC, a 19-member grouping of Indian Ocean littoral states, will be brainstorming to find a new acronym that encapsulates more pithily and imaginatively the growing importance of this strategic resource-rich region.

Re-naming the 15-year-old IOR-ARC (Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation) is aimed at re-invigorating the grouping that has acquired a greater salience in view of the Indian Ocean emerging as a new playground for maritime rivalries.

It will be among key issues that ministers and senior officials of 19 countries will be discussing at the five-day meeting that starts in Gurgaon, a booming corporate hub bordering New Delhi, Monday.

K.V. Bhagirath, secretary general of the IOR-ARC, headquartered in Mauritian capital Port Louis, told IANS that changing the name of the association would be among the important issues discussed at the council of ministers' meeting Nov 2.

"This proposal was made by Australia and two proposals have been made. The meeting will consider and approve one of the proposals," said Bhagirath, a former Indian ambassador to Tanzania.

"This being the 15th year of the existence of the organisation, the ministerial meeting will not only assess its achievements, however modest they may be, but also focus their attention on re-energising and re-invigorating it," he said.

Australia, the current chair of the IOR-ARC, is keen on the Indian Ocean Community and the Indian Ocean Regional Association (IORA) as alternative names.

Former Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd was an ardent advocate of the name change, saying the current name is "unpronounceable" and does not reflect the growing weight of the organisation that has emerging economies like India and Indonesia and is home to over 2.5 billion people.

The 19 members of the IOR-ARC are Australia, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Malaysia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, the Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, the UAE and Yemen.

The member-states will also be taking a decision on making Indonesia the vice chair of the grouping and taking a consensus-based decision on the United States' request to be granted dialogue partner status.

Currently, IOR-ARC has five dialogue partners - China, Japan, Egypt, France and Britain.

Maritime security, bolstering counter-piracy cooperation and mapping new pathways of economic cooperation will be the key items on the agenda.

There is also a complex geopolitical game at play, with China showing greater assertiveness in the high seas and projecting its interests in the Indian Ocean.

New Delhi has also upped its game and will be seeking to assert its leadership of the region.

With growing incidents of piracy off the Gulf of Aden and the coast of Somalia, maritime security has emerged as one of cross-cutting global issues, and one which has an added traction in the grouping of states which share the Indian Ocean.

For India, which depends on the Middle East for the bulk of its oil supplies, securing the Indian Ocean has become an overriding strategic priority.

Maritime terrorism is another spur driving India to seek closer collaboration among littoral Indian Ocean states, an issue that has become specially important since the Mumbai terror attacks when 10 Pakistani terrorists came from the sea.

Against this backdrop, India will be not only pushing for new initiatives in combating piracy and bolstering maritime security but also expanding the network of economic cooperation as it feels leveraging soft power of Indian Ocean states is equally important.

"A study on a preferential trade agreement is being considered by the association," said Bhagirath, indicating that economics will be a binding force in coalescing Indian Ocean states.

"A study on 'Trade and Investment Prospects of the IOR-ARC in the New Millennium' is now completed," he said.

(Manish Chand can be contacted at manish.c@ians.in)