China this week convened a first “China-Indian Ocean Region Forum” bringing together 19 countries from the region – and all of India’s neighbours, except for India itself, the lone absentee from a new Beijing strategic initiative.
The forum, held in Kunming in southwestern Yunnan province on November 21, brought together representatives from 19 countries including Indonesia, Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Afghanistan, Iran, Oman, South Africa, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, Djibouti, and Australia, according to a statement from the organisers, the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA).
India was not invited. The CIDCA is China’s new development aid agency, and is currently headed by former Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui, who also earlier served as envoy to India and Pakistan.
The forum underlined China’s stepped up diplomacy in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Earlier this year, during a visit to Sri Lanka, Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed creating another forum “on the development of Indian Ocean island countries” to “build consensus and synergy, and promote common development”. He called on Sri Lanka to “play an important role” in the initiative.
At CIDCA’s Kunming forum, China “proposed to establish a marine disaster prevention and mitigation cooperation mechanism between China and countries in the Indian Ocean region, and stood ready to provide necessary financial, material, and technical support to countries in need”, a statement from CIDCA said.
China also “proposed the establishment of a blue economy think tank network for China and countries in the Indian Ocean region with the support of Yunnan.”
The participating countries, the statement said, agreed to cooperate to “strengthen policy coordination, deepen development cooperation, increase resilience to shocks and disasters, and enhance relevant countries’ capacity to obtain economic benefits through use of marine resources such as fisheries, renewable energy, tourism, and shipping in a sustainable way.” China, which has set up a China-Africa Satellite Remote Sensing Application Centre, also called for countries “to jointly address non-traditional security challenges and participate in global development cooperation, so as to forge a united, equal, balanced and inclusive global development partnership.”