In the Zone 2011
Perth, as Australia's only Indian Ocean facing capital, has a major role to play in this dynamic region, delegates at today's In the Zone Business Forum at The University of Western Australia were told.
In a session entitled ‘History, geography and security: evolving dialogue in the Indo-Pacific', business, political and academic leaders discussed the complex, multi-faceted nature of the region.
Dr Richard Smith AO PSM, Australia's Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, warned the region should not be viewed as a whole, but rather as a series of separate entities with specific issues.
"The Indian Ocean is bordered by many countries with many, many different issues and challenges. But let us not imagine for a moment that it is a coherent system. The sum of the parts is not easy to understand or deal with. Almost the only thing in common is that the Indian Ocean washes their shores," Dr Smith said.
He suggested that the current interest in the Indian Ocean, a relatively peaceful and prosperous region for the past generation, was over-rated in terms of its global importance, particularly when compared with the "nightmare" region "west of Mumbai."
"We must get the Indian Ocean into our strategic framework, but try to ensure that the prophecies of strategic conflicts and tensions do not become self-fulfilling. We must get behind a more productive view of the region," Dr Smith said.
Mr Rory Medcalf, Director International Security Program, Lowy Institute, described an "Indo-Pacific maritime Asia", in which power shifts were creating the need for Australia to adjust its actions in order to ensure future security and prosperity.
He said that while India and China would continue to grow in global economic and political importance, the United States would remain a crucial player, particularly in terms of security.
"The US will be more, and not less, welcome as a security actor in Asia," he said.
Mr Medcalf said Australia needed greater recognition of the Indo-Pacific region and in particular a stronger focus on the strategic implications of India's growth.
He said there was a requirement for Australia to do more to build an Indo-Pacific architecture and create a set of mechanisms to support forums such as the East Asia Summit.
Mr Medcalf highlighted Australia's current responses to global challenges, through re-affirming its alliance with the United States and re-aligning its relationship to suit the new era.
Mr Medcalf said transnational challenges such as tackling piracy off the coast of Somalia, disaster relief, exploitation of resources and dealing with the impacts of climate change were key issues in the Indian Ocean region, and players external to the region would continue to play an important role.
Mr Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Foreign Editor, The Hindustan Times, described the changes that were taking place as India sought to position itself economically, politically and in a military sense within the Indian Ocean region.
In particular, India was deepening its engagement to the west - for example, investing in coking coal and gas in Mozambique.
India was also moving into deeper policy discussions with island states such as Mauritius, Maldives and Seychelles; and building new business and economic models with Malaysia and Indonesia, he said.
Mr Chaudhuri said India's economy was dependent on Indian Ocean traffic.
Strategically, India was concerned about security. "There is going to be a security vacuum in the Indian Ocean. We want a security structure where we bring together other security players to the region," he said.
Ms Elena Douglas, Convenor Centre for Social Impact and the Religion and Globalisation Initiative, The University of Western Australia, urged leaders to consider the role of Australia in the region, through second track diplomacy initiatives and building relationships across nations.
The In the Zone forum is an intensive one-day meeting of 100 national and international leaders from the business, government and academic sectors.
With the theme ‘The Geography of Global Prosperity', the forum provides an opportunity for discussion and debate about the increasingly complex global neighbourhood and key policy questions facing Australia and the region.
The forum follows the success of the 2009 In the Zone Conference.
Sonia Nolan (ITZ Media Manager) (+61 4) 01 034 103
Janine MacDonald (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 5563 / (+61 4) 32 637 716