Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the opening of the Indian Ocean Conference at the Federal Foreign Office

09.06.2015 - Speech

Ladies and gentlemen,
Dr Hamm,
Kurt Beck,

Thank you for your encouraging opening words. And thank you for your cooperation which helps us in Germany to sharpen our view of the world and broaden our knowledge of far‑flung regions, things which are also important in breaking down the prejudices that some seem to hold.

I’m delighted that we’re meeting today to reflect on the future of the Indian Ocean region – a region on the rise.

I myself am also pleased about this meeting because it’s a welcome change from the usual foreign policy agenda these days. We live in turbulent times. Certainly I personally cannot recall a time in the whole of my political career when there were so many complex and severe crises going on at the same time. They dominate our daily work in foreign policy. But there’s more behind the crises – the increase in their number is no coincidence but an eruption of forces in a world which has, if you will, come loose from its moorings. A world in which the structures of the international order are coming under pressure and the tectonic plates of global politics are shifting.

That is exactly why it’s so important, alongside emergency crisis policy, to widen our focus to include the greater shifts and to ask how the international order will continue to develop in the 21st century. I see today’s conference as part of this broader perspective.

With the Federal Foreign Office’s Review 2014, last year I invited us to expressly open our minds to this wider, broader, perspective and to ask: how is the world actually changing and are the changes altering our role, the role of German foreign policy, too. We’ve tried to make the aim of the review clear, even in the logo that you can see here: to rethink our view of the world, to rethink Germany’s position in it – to turn worn out ways of thinking upside down.


That is also how we want to approach today’s conference. In Germany, we quite naturally often talk about the ’Atlantic community’ or ’Pacific century’. But the Indian Ocean? To date, only a few people view the region surrounding this ocean as a cultural and economic space – although it has been for a long time.

In days gone by merchant ships crossed the Indian Ocean, from the coast of East Africa to China, from India to the Red Sea. Goods, people and ideas moved freely between ancient cultural centres, all of which lie on the Indian Ocean: from East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, to the Persian Gulf, to South and South East Asia. It seems to me that the time has come for the Indian Ocean to experience another era of peace, exchange and cooperation. But it remains true that these are things you have to work for.

The Indian Ocean region has enormous potential. It’s home to a third of the world’s population. All world religions are joined by the Indian Ocean. Many economies are successfully diversifying, from Kenya to India to Malaysia. Experts from Harvard University even forecast that, in the upcoming decade, the Indian Ocean region will become the world’s strongest economic area.

Large new gas fields are being discovered, as most recently in East Africa. Trade over the Indian Ocean between the neighbouring continents Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia is growing at a rapid pace. Ambitious infrastructure projects are betting on a thriving future – the container tonnage crossing the Indian Ocean is set to double or even triple by 2030. And all of this is being powered by the technological advances which are improving the everyday lives and work opportunities of the growing middle classes in particular: in the last 10 years in East Africa alone over 130 million people have gained access to mobile phone networks.


But, as in any dynamic region of the world, in the Indian Ocean region, too, chances and challenges are closely interlinked.

90% of global trade is carried by sea. If the 21st century is to become a maritime century, then the Indian Ocean will become a key sphere for the international community. Many of the emerging economic powers of Asia are coastal states whose existence depends on safe seas – just as is the case for us in Germany: two thirds of all containers carrying German exports cross the Indian Ocean.

Crises such as those in Somalia, Yemen and the areas subject to the so-called Islamic State’s vile rule of terror could destabilise the emerging economic area of the Indian Ocean. The worst case scenario would be for the breakdown of the rule of law, which is often reflected in criminal activity at sea, to spread to the entire surrounding region. Today, the Indian Ocean region is already home to 10 of the world’s 20 most fragile states.

How can we strengthen these countries? And how can we offer many millions of people prospects for the future preferable to embarking on the highly dangerous migration across the sea?

Today, 70% of global natural disasters occur in the Indian Ocean region and the very existence of entire island states is threatened by rising sea levels. How can we decisively combat climate change and at the same time help coastal cities from Durban to Delhi, from Karachi to Kuala Lumpur, to become climate-resilient ’smart cities’?

Rapid urbanisation is another common challenge: in East Africa alone, by 2050 some 230 million more people will live in cities than do today. That amounts to nearly the entire current population of Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya and Sudan put together – or all of Indonesia’s. How can we enable these people to find a way to live good lives in cities, with decently paid work opportunities?

Too many young people have no job prospects. What kind of education could prepare these young people for a labour market which is changing faster than it ever has done before?


Dear guests, even this sprinkling of depictions – of the chances as well as the challenges – produces something of a new perspective on the tectonic shifts our world is experiencing. The ’Pacific Pivot’, the upwards trend in the Pacific region, has received a lot of attention in the public domain. But if everything I’ve just said is true then I think that it’s high time that Germany and Europe paid attention to the era of the Indian Ocean. If such a new perspective reaches the German public, then this conference will have already paid off.


But it is not only attention that matters. At the end of the day we’re dealing with great political challenges: from maritime security, the fragility of states or climate change, to economic growth, urbanisation and vocational training. It’s in all of our interest to tackle these tasks together. Whether we are neighbours on continents or island states, China, the US, Europe or Germany – we all have an interest in a peaceful and flourishing Indian Ocean region, in another driver of global development, in joint progress made by different cultures and religions, in safe seas and the rules‑based and sustainable use of maritime resources.

I would be very pleased if this conference, which so many partners and guests from the region as well as our European friends are participating in, provides impetus for us to work on the region’s prospects together.

It is only through a common understanding of maritime governance, for example, that we can avoid conflict over sea borders and the use of maritime resources. Only together can we successfully pursue innovative development strategies such as deep‑sea mining and the blue economy. Only together can we make the great future we envision for the Indian Ocean region become reality.

Germany stands ready to support the Indian Ocean’s coastal states in doing so – together with our partners in Europe and around the world. Your regional organisation, the Indian Ocean Rim Association, IORA, serves as an important linchpin of your shared future. I’m thus delighted to be able to announce that Germany is going to apply to be a dialogue partner of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. We stand ready to work with IORA and its members and dialogue partners in fields such as maritime security and the blue economy.

I see this conference as a small but important step towards this and I’m thus particularly grateful to our co-organisers, the Robert Bosch Stiftung and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The conference would not have been possible without them. I would also like to thank the companies FERROSTAAL and VERIDOS for their kind support for this conference – and last but not least I thank all of you, some of you have travelled very far to be here.

I hope that today will offer all of us the chance to have an interesting exchange of perspectives.

Welcome to the Indian Ocean conference!

Thank you.

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