New Delhi, November 27
Quad members Australia and India did not participate in a conference on the Indian Ocean organised by China last week. Maldives, a close security partner of India’, also did not participate though the organisers of the “China-Indian Ocean Forum on Development Cooperation”.
Analysts see the move as an attempt to challenge India’s traditional presence in the region as also a move to politicise the Indian Ocean region. It is also being seen as a move to counter New Delhi-led Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and Indian Ocean Navies Symposium (IONS) under the “Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR)” policy.
The event saw participation from about 18 countries from the region and was held in hybrid format in Kunming along with several parallel events such as the 6th China-South Asia expo, and the China-Indian Ocean region thinktank forum. Sources said a few of the participants were individuals or groups whom China claimed represented their countries.
Australian High Commissioner Barry O’Farrell specifically denied that Canberra had sent a representative to Kunming and said the IORA is the “only ministerial-level forum for Indian Ocean”. Its Ministerial Council meeting last week here was attended by Australian Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts who has been elected its Vice Chair.
Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs also denied participating in the Forum and said it had communicated to Beijing on November 15. A joint press statement released by the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) said Maldives had participated in the “China-Indian Ocean Forum on Development Cooperation”.
CIDCA is headed by former Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui which claimed that there was representation from 19 countries, including Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Indonesia, Myanmar, Maldives, Iran, Oman, South Africa, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, Djibouti and Australia.