I express my gratitude to CICA Secretariat and host of the Tenth CICA Think Tank Forum – the SIIS – for their invitation to participate in the Forum.
The Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) is a 28-member multilateral framework for enhancing cooperation towards promoting peace, security and stability in Asia by undertaking confidence building measures. It is a coveted platform for dialogue and interaction on wide range of security and developmental issues. The growing strength of the organization indicates the sincerity of efforts it has made in these areas. Presently, CICA covers about 90 per cent of the territory and population of Asia.
The organization started its journey at a time when parts of Asia were undergoing severe changes. Nonetheless, gradual strengthening of CICA reflects the common aspiration of Asian countries and trust on the organization to find local solutions to issues they face. CICA is working to build consensus on a wide range of issues of common interests and concerns for Asia, which is a populous, large and diverse continent.
The year 2022 is important for CICA, it is not only completing three decades of growth and consolidation but also transforming itself into an organization coinciding with the re-rise of Asia in the changing world. The year is a milestone not just for CICA, but also for India as we are celebrating 75 years of independence.
Among a founding Member of CICA, India has been actively supporting CICA and its initiatives. Addressing the sixth CICA Summit in Astana in October 2022, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, Smt. Meenakashi Lekhi said that the progress and role of CICA in building confidence between countries ‘is in tune with India’s support for inclusive, consultative and cooperative multilateralism and our fundamental philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which means the world is one family.’ India has civilizational relations with the regions of Asia and CICA countries, and it views CICA as an important platform to promote multilateralism in diverse and multi-polar Asia.
Apart from devising approaches to deal with traditional and non-traditional security challenges, CICA is important for India from transport, energy, renewable energy, economic and trade perspectives. India has been making its contribution to strengthen the initiative, including by organizing and participating in various activities of CICA. India organized a successful workshop on ‘Energy Security’ in June 2021 and a webinar on ‘Role of Traditional Medicine’ in February 2022 that saw wide participation. India has also assumed the role of CICA Coordinator on ‘Counterterrorism’.
Today, Asia is faced with multiple challenges, including in the fields of security, economy, transit and trade, connectivity, and enhancing people’s living standard.
Challenges for CICA
CICA has been making effort to bring together countries of Asia to collectively address the common challenges. Currently, CICA region is faced with multiple challenges and it aspires to respond to them. The challenges include of sustainable security, food and energy security, comparatively low intra-regional trade and environment. An interrupted inter-region connectivity in Asia, especially in Eurasia, impacts trade linkages and economic cooperation. It is important that connectivity initiatives are undertaken; however, they should be based on the principles of transparency, broad participation, local priorities, financial sustainability and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations.
Terrorism continues to pose a big threat to peace and it affects all of us in Asia. India follows a zero-tolerance approach towards terror and unequivocally condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. It is important that CICA countries cooperate sincerely to effectively deal with the menace of terrorism and extremism. Since beginning CICA has identified the threat of terrorism and urged members to deal with this challenge. In Almaty during the First CICA Summit in June 2002, a declaration was issued expressing commitment to fighting terrorism and strengthening bilateral, regional and international cooperation. It clearly mentioned that eliminating terrorism is the common goal of all cultures and civilizations.
The COVID-19 pandemic and post-pandemic recovery poses multiple health and economic challenges to the CICA space. It is imperative that CICA members increase their cooperation in this area by sharing their expertise and experience. India has voluntarily offered to share with countries in the region its open-source technologies of robust digital platforms like the Aarogya-Setu and COWIN applications.
Bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan is a common task for CICA members. India has civilizational links with the Afghan people. In the current crisis in Afghanistan, India is committed to assist and support the Afghan people in their difficult times.
Cyber space is a borderless global common. Security in digital age has assumed increased importance, especially in recent years. Securing cyber space is a challenge for CICA countries and cooperation in this sphere can be accelerated despite Covid related restrictions on physical movement of people and material.
Climate change or none of the above-mentioned challenges can be addressed by one single country in the CICA region. CICA could be a suitable platform to prepare solid foundation for effective cooperation to mitigate the problems collectively.
Changing CICA into Organization
CICA’s transformation to an international organisation is in the spirit of CICA’s development. India appreciates the vision presented by the CICA Chair in the 30th year of its formation to give it a shape of an international organization through a gradual, inclusive and transparent process while maintaining its core principles of consensus and voluntary nature of cooperation.
New primary focus areas of the transformed CICA could be ICT, counter-terrorism, public health, and pharmaceuticals. Connectivity, as mentioned in the Astana Statement on CICA Transformation, is likely get greater traction in CICA area. India has been pursuing to develop resilient supply chains and transit rights especially with the Eurasian region. A sustained and institutionalised mechanism is required to prepare and deal with them and CICA in its transformed role of an organization would be suitably equipped to deliver.
Asia is growing fast and it is expected to continue the march in future. It is important to remember that our future remains intertwined. CICA has comparative demographic advantage in comparison to other regional initiatives, natural resources, and the entrepreneurial manpower to make Asia a vibrant region of growth and prosperity.
We need to continue work towards confidence-building measures and promote economic cooperation, cultural exchanges and people-to-people interactions. India considers CICA as a unique Asian forum of different cultures and traditions making it one of the most important mechanisms to promote dialogue among civilizations and cultures.
In conclusion it can be said that CICA initiative has potential to play a significant role in economic and cultural spheres even if security cooperation is still emerging as a priority for cooperation among member countries. In terms of economic cooperation framework, CICA can facilitate the stage to find mutually beneficial engagements in areas like healthcare, business consultancy, renewable energy, connectivity and investment in each other’s economies.
Asia faces multiple challenges but it also presents opportunities to develop regional framework. Closer bilateral and regional economic cooperation among CICA members can act as a powerful catalyst for development in the region.