Willkommen auf den Seiten des Auswärtigen Amts
Honorable Minister Samaraweera,
Distinguished Deputy Minister Oegroseno,
Distinguished Undersecretary Mohamed Al-Hassan,
What a wonderful setting right at the shores of the Indian Ocean! I could not think of a more appropriate background for today’s premiere.
Welcome to our Indian Ocean Ambassadors’ Conference! For the first time, German Ambassadors from five continents meet to debate a region that has not traditionally been on the radar screen of German foreign Policy: The Indian Ocean.
I would like to focus my opening remarks on two arguments:
Firstly: Today, we Germany, the EU have an unprecedented level of concurring interests with the countries of the Indian Ocean – as a result of geopolitical shifts in the region and at the global level.
Secondly: Germany and the European Union have a strong offer to make to our partners in the region. Together, we can provide for significant progress on prosperity and security in the region.
Let me start by exploring why and how our interests concur with those of cities in the region in a rapidly changing geopolitical context:
The massive shifts in this region are part of a larger dynamic in global affairs – a re-calibration of the relative weight of international and regional players and their respective relationships. And the Indian Ocean – connecting element between three continents from East Africa to Australia – has become a key arena of global politics:
China has dramatically expanded its influence. The „Maritime Silk Road“ brings trade and investment. Yet, it also brings about new dependencies and debts. And some partners feel encroached upon and suspect ulterior motives – including military ones.
Meanwhile we are getting mixed signals from Washington. President Trump has abandoned the Transpacific Partnership and follows a more protectionist path. „America First“ is the new mantra, raising questions about traditional security alliances, free trade, a rules-based international order, and, in fact, the US as a provider of global public goods.
Japan’s „Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy“ links regional development and connectivity to basic values such as peace and democracy. And India under Prime Minister Modi has developed its vision of SAGAR, „security and growth for all in the region“.
In this complex environment, an ever growing number of countries in the region find themselves caught in between. This may be why many interlocutors from the region tell me that their countries have a strategic interest in diversifying their international relations beyond the traditional regional and global heavyweights.
Now this is where Germany and the European Union come into play. In a dramatically changing international environment, we, too, seek to diversify and strengthen partnerships. We seek allies to work towards a functioning international order. And we sense that what is happening in the Indian Ocean will directly impact our prosperity and our security in Europe.
Ambassador Oegroseno, you will remember the big Conference „The Indian Ocean - A Maritime Region on the Rise“ that we hosted in Berlin in 2015! My impression was that there was a strong sense of shared interest and a strong resolve to explore new forms of cooperation amongst the 300 participants. Today, two years later, this mutual attraction seems even stronger.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me be very clear: Germany and Europe seek cooperation, not dominance, not unilateral dependencies. What we are interested in are fair and reliable partnerships that are made to last. We do not strive to establish spheres of influence or project military power.
Take the example of India, where I have just discussed our upcoming inter-governmental consultations. Some years ago we have agreed on an ambitious cooperation plan that will make a difference for millions of people: Cleaner energy, modern railways, sustainable urban transport, skills for young people. A true win win cooperation (where both sides win, not one side wins twice!).
In fact, there is a whole set of strategic interests that we share. Let me enumerate just three vital ones:
Free trade - because the Indian Ocean Region is home to some of the fastest growing economies worldwide. But also because we see a real window of opportunity here to promote an open traditional system, where workers’ rights are respected, environmental standards upheld and intellectual property protected.
Maritime security: Two thirds of all containers carrying German exports cross the Indian Ocean! The littoral countries here depend as much on secure shipping lanes as we do. But what's more: We firmly believe in freedom of navigation as a core principle of international order and the law of the seas.
And political stability – the critical element for unleashing the region’s full potential! But also crucial for us in Europe, as we are aware that seemingly far away conflicts can directly affect our security and our societies.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Just a week ago, Foreign Minister Gabriel announced a strategic re-orientation of Germany’s Asia Policy: We want to join forces, deepen and strengthen relations with partners in the region to boost free trade, to foster regional institutions and a rules based international system and to support peaceful resolution of conflicts. This also holds true for the Indian Ocean.
Now, it is clear that no individual European country carries enough weight to yield true influence in this vast region or the world at large – neither politically, nor economically or on security. Part and parcel of any enhanced focus on this region thus has to be a European approach.
And another aspect is obvious: Any agenda for the Indian Ocean region cannot follow a „one fits all“ logic – too fundamental are the differences between, for instance, war-torn Yemen and waking giant India, between the world’s largest crude-exporter Saudi-Arabia and a slowly stabilizing Somalia. Simplification will not do the trick. Our approach has to be multi-facetted, flexible and adaptable to our partners’ needs.
Yet, I am convinced that the instruments in our toolbox - bilaterally and in the framework of the EU - are attractive to all countries of the region. Let me mention five fields of cooperation:
Trade: We stand for new and innovative trade agreements: Today– with the US having set out to pursue a policy towards more protectionism - we have the chance to truly set standards with our Asian partners. We, the EU want to speed up negotiations on Free Trade Agreements with Japan, India and Indonesia, with countries of the GCC and with ASEAN. Let us be creative and responsive to our partners’ concerns – and not miss the opportunity to jointly shape globalization!
Security: If I were to enumerate all security challenges in the region, from the tensions between India and Pakistan to the Gulf region, from fragile states to terrorism, piracy and human trafficking - you would have to listen to me for much longer than fifteen minutes.
My message is: Europe is no longer a security „dwarf“: We have been critical in achieving the nuclear deal with Iran; we help stabilizing Somalia (the EU is the main contributor to AMISOM) we offer substantive humanitarian and development assistance in Yemen.
On maritime security, the EU is are successfully deterring piracy off the coast of Somalia within operation „Atalanta“. The EU actively contributes to maritime civilian law enforcement and we engage in the fight against human trafficking. Yet, I believe there is room for more. We should further enhance our security cooperation partners in the region. Can we, for instance, invest more in joint exercises? Is our experience on confidence building measures or on arms control of use to the region?
Regional Cooperation: We support closer regional cooperation, especially in the framework of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. European history and our EU day to day experience has taught us one lesson: Zero sum logic leads nowhere. Regional integration, mechanisms for balancing out differing opinions create true win-win situations.
A code of conduct for military vessels and an effective dispute solution mechanism, for instance, as suggested by the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, can help avoid escalation and make the Indian Ocean safer for all. To further enhance regional integration, Germany has offered expertise for capacity building to IORA. And the EU has more than doubled its funding for regional cooperation in South and East Africa and the Indian Ocean to more than 1.3 billion Euros over five years.
We stand for universal values, good governance and the Rule of Law. History shows that sustainable growth and good governance go hand in hand. And we are uniquely placed to offer cooperation to this end: We have not only outstanding experts on legal frameworks and capacity building – but we can also draw on our political foundations as a unique selling point!
My fifth and last point: We have a strong offer to make regarding business cooperation – ranging from dual vocational training to sustainable urban development. And we are developing powerful new instruments such as our „Maritime Agendas“ geared towards deepening partnerships through concrete cooperation. Dear Ambassador Oegroseno, I am trust that our „Maritime Agenda“ with Indonesia will make a difference and set a standard for the future!
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Indian philosopher Tagore once said: „You cannot cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.“ This certainly holds true for the magnitude of the Indian Ocean-as a body of water and the regional issues at hand! If we want to bridge the geographical distance that separates us, and make a difference, smart ideas and sound strategies are indispensable. And we have them. But they will not suffice – unless we implement them and take joint action.
This is why we have come to Colombo in order to join you in hammering out a lasting partnership between Germany, Europe and the countries in the Indian Ocean region.
Thank you for your attention!