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Representatives from 25 Indian Ocean nations discussed regional economic growth, cooperation and security at the Indian Ocean Conference in Bangladesh on Friday as the Indo-Pacific grows in importance amid changes in the world order.
Government officials and experts discussed the Russia-Ukraine war prominently in several sessions, reflecting concerns about how countries in the region would align themselves in the new complex order stemming from the war.
“The Indian Ocean has reemerged as an important area, not only for economic resources, but also because … it has gradually been becoming a theater of geopolitics,” said Delwar Hossain, professor of international relations at Dhaka University. “So now we can see that the littoral countries of the Indian Ocean are facing a new context, particularly when we see Ukraine.”
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Countries in the region have had to cope with rising inflation and supply chain disruptions as well as questions of security alignments as a result of the war.
Bangladesh is hosting the two-day conference, organized by the India Foundation with the affiliation of the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. China is attending as an observer, while Myanmar was not invited because of continuing violence following its military’s seizure of power.
Representatives participate in the Indian Ocean Conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on May 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Al-emrun Garjon)
The Indian Ocean Conference started in 2016, and in the past six years it has emerged as the flagship consultative forum for countries in the region on regional affairs.
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The region includes 38 countries in the region, including 13 in Africa, 22 in Asia and one in Oceania that border the Indian Ocean, and two European countries that administer several dependencies or overseas territories in the region.
The vast Indian Ocean is vital for global trade and energy resources, but also faces challenges such as piracy, terrorism and geopolitical tensions, organizers say.
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Veena Sikri, a former Indian ambassador to Bangladesh, said the importance of the region has increased in recent times as the countries around it become increasingly interconnected.
She said the conference is crucial because China is in conflict with rivals including the U.S., Japan and India in the Indo-Pacific region over establishing supremacy and controlling sea routes.
“Now, this time, the focus of this Indian Ocean conference is on the Indo-Pacific because that is the trend of the future,” she said.