The Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) in collaboration with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Government of India, hosted the 8th Indian Ocean Dialogue on 15th December 2021. The Indian Ocean Dialogue is the Track 1.5 flagship initiative of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. The Dialogue was held virtually on the theme – Post Pandemic Indian Ocean: Leveraging Digital Technologies for Health, Education, Development and Trade in IORA Member States. The 8th IOD had a total of 19 speakers, constituting a multi-disciplinary group of academics, policy makers, diplomats, technology experts, naval analysts from countries including Australia, India, Iran, Mauritius, Oman, South Africa and Sri Lanka. The Dialogue was also attended by additional participants from Member States and Dialogue Partners of IORA. The programme was conducted over four technical sessions in addition to the inaugural and the valedictory sessions.
Opening Remarks at the Inaugural were delivered by Director General, ICWA Amb. Vijay Thakur Singh. In her remarks she emphasized that India’s engagement with the littorals of the Indian Ocean is deep. She stated that India endeavours to strengthen relationships with its regional partners in a mutually cooperative manner under the vision of SAGAR or ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’. In his remarks, Dr. Gatot Hari Gunawan, Acting Secretary General of IORA mentioned that the pandemic has shown us how important technologies are to run the world; hence we must collectively support each other by sharing new technologies and maintaining a sustainable order in the Indian Ocean Region.
Keynote Address was delivered by Dr. Rajkumar Ranjan Singh, Minister of State of External Affairs, Government of India. He stated that India’s vision of the Indian Ocean region is premised on the SAGAR doctrine as enunciated by PM Shri Narendra Modi, encompassing political, security, economic and socio-cultural spheres. It envisions the Indian Ocean region and the greater Indo-Pacific as a region of peace and prosperity, based on a climate of trust and transparency, respect for international maritime rules, equal access as a right under international law, sensitivity to each other’s interests, peaceful resolution of disputes and enhanced maritime cooperation. He highlighted the need for greater collaboration among IORA Member States for post pandemic recovery. He also noted the critical role of new and emerging technologies, and re-affirmed India’s readiness to collaborate in this regard.
The first technical session on “Embracing e-Health to fight COVID-19” was chaired by Dr. Nivedita Ray, Director Research, ICWA, India. The session had speakers from Mauritius, India and Sri Lanka. There was agreement that digital health technologies like contact tracing applications, vaccine booking websites played an indispensable role in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. IORA provides a good platform to collate all the initiatives and learn from the experience of all the countries.
The second session on “Investments in e-Education” was chaired by Dr. Romeela Mohee, Commissioner of Higher Education Commission, Mauritius. Speakers in the session were from South Africa, Iran, Australia and Sri Lanka. Key challenges to education sector in the light of COVID pandemic were highlighted during the discussion. Establishment of university networks in the IORA region was suggested as a key step to advance E-learning.
The third session on “Development Through Digital Technologies” was chaired by Mr. Mohit Kapoor, Chairman, AI and Digital Transformation Committee, FICCI and Chief Technical Officer, Mahindra Group, India. Speakers in the session were from Mauritius, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Oman. It was noted that digital technology is becoming the most important pillar for businesses, health and in advancing the global development agenda as encapsulated in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The last session on “Digital Shipping, Smart Ports and Trade” chaired by Dr Prashantha Jayamanna, Vice Chairman, Sri Lanka ports Authority, Sri Lanka. Speakers at the session were from Iran and India. There was a consensus that technology is leading to a new phase of automation and security information which are important components of advancement in and the growth of the maritime industry.
The valedictory address was delivered by Mrs. Riva Ganguly Das, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs, Govt. of India. In her address, she emphasized the immense potential for IORA led cooperation among its members and dialogue partners to fully leverage new and emerging technologies. She also underlined the importance of sharing best practices and innovative approaches to solve shared challenges in the areas like Health, Education, Trade and Development.