On 27-28 June 2022, Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) had an exchange of views with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)“to learn best practices in ASEAN cooperation”. The meeting follows another high-profile visit, namely of the IORA Secretary-General, Salman Al Farisi, who met the ASEAN Secretary-General, Dato Lim Jock Hoi, in Jakarta, on March 30, 2022.
Certainly, with a history of five decades and a half, the ASEAN has a lot of know-how to share with IORA in matters of cooperation. Headquartered in Jakarta, Indonesia – “the driving force of ASEAN”, the regional organisation has been initially created with the aim of contributing to the economic, social and cultural development of the countries of Southeast Asia, while ensuring the stability of the entire region. It is now governed by the “ASEAN Charter”, adopted in November 2007.
In terms of cooperation, in 1993, ASEAN created a new body, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which brings together the ASEAN member states, their main partners and numerous other Asian area states, aiming at discussing issues related to security of the region. Since 2001, the regional association has intensified dialogue and cooperation with other East Asian countries (China, Japan and the Republic of Korea) as well as with major partners outside the region (Australia, Canada, European Union, New Zealand, Russia, United States). In November 2015, the ten leaders of ASEAN formally created an ASEAN Community with three pillars: Political-Security Community, Economic Community and Socio-Cultural Community. In 2019, ASEAN launched its “Outlook on the Indo-Pacific” based on the “principles of strengthening ASEAN Centrality, openness, transparency, inclusivity, a rules-based framework, good governance, respect for sovereignty, non-intervention, complementarity with existing cooperation frameworks, equality, mutual respect, mutual trust, mutual benefit and respect for international law.”
IORA is the regional association, officially established by the signing of IORA Charter in Mauritius on March 6, 1997, comprising of 23 members (Australia, Bangladesh, Comoros, France, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Seychelles, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Yemen) and 10 dialogue partners (China, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Russia, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States).
According to its Charter, the objective of IORA is mainly to "promote the sustained growth and balanced economic development of the region and of the Member States, (...) to provide maximum opportunities to develop shared interests and reap mutual benefits". To this avail, IORA set six priority areas, as follows: "1. Maritime Safety and Security; 2. Trade and Investment Facilitation; 3. Fisheries Management; 4. Disaster Risk Management; 5. Academic, Science and Technology Cooperation; and 6. Tourism and Cultural Exchanges."
Regarding international cooperation, IORA is a member of the AIJ Innovation Platform, a cooperation format aiming at collaborative global innovation and industrialization toward SDGs among innovation hubs and science cities of ASEAN, IORA and Japan.
In context, the two recent high profile visits of IORA at the ASEAN Headquarter in Jakarta may signal both organisations’ readiness to further cooperate for their mutual benefit. Certainly, provided the current international setting, especially the ever-tightening competition between the United States and China, with visible effects both in South and Southeast Asia, the potential for ASEAN-IORA cooperation could be also interpreted in the key of a promising independent pole, which could possibly balance the regional architecture of the Indian Ocean Rim. To this extent, IORA could learn from ASEAN how to replicate its success, yet on a larger, inter-continental scale. A consolidated IORA would also translate into a less vulnerable community to external threats – or biases, a code of conduct for the Indian Ocean - drafted and signed by its littoral countries, and a more resilient Indian Ocean-integrated supply chain.
Shall ASEAN manage to assist - or inspire - the Indian Ocean Region to replicate its success, the IORA member states could find their own potential to seek - and identify - a collective solution to the global challenges and changes of the international architecture, through cooperation and multilateralism. If successful, such a scenario would clearly strengthen the Asia-Pacific regional architecture and create a diversified and resilient region able to "build and expand understanding and mutually beneficial co-operation through a consensus-based, evolutionary and non-intrusive approach", as the IORA Charter sets out.
To this extent, the two recent exchanges between ASEAN and IORA have the potential to be recorded as highly significant in the constantly dynamic Asia-Pacific architecture.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, position or view of IRSEA.