Raynor Argaditya (2021)

Universitas Pembangunan Nasional Veteran Jakarta

Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is a regional organization whose member states are based in the Indian Ocean region. IORA’s foundation is based on the pillars of economy, maritime security and safety, education, and culture. The forms of cooperation that are prioritized in the IORA include maritime security, trade, fisheries, natural disaster management, science and technology, and cross-cultural exchanges. In addition, IORA also held a discussion on the concept of blue economy and the importance of women empowerment.

20th IORA Council of Ministers’ Meeting, Jakarta, March 2017 (Source: The Jakarta Post)

20th IORA Council of Ministers’ Meeting, Jakarta, March 2017 (Source: The Jakarta Post)

IORA’s founding date was on March 6-7, 1997 in Mauritius, under the name of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC). At the 13th Ministerial Meeting in Perth, Australia, IOR-ARC was changed to “IORA” to raise public awareness that the grouping is a unifying tool for the Indian Ocean-surrounding nations as a single region. IORA’s foundational goals are to accelerate sustainable and fair economic growth, build a strong foundation for regional economic cooperation through trade facilitation efforts, and erase barriers to trade (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia, 2019).

As of 2021, 23 member states joined the IORA; Australia, Bangladesh, Comoros, France, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Seychelles, Singapore, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, and Yemen. In addition, IORA has also granted the status of “Dialogue Partners” to nine countries; China, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

On March 7, 1997, Indonesia officially joined the IORA. However, the then monetary crisis and the overthrow of Suharto’s regime hampered Indonesia’s activities in the regional organization. During the second term of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s presidency (2009-2014), Indonesia reactivated its foreign policy focus towards the IORA. On November 1, 2013, Indonesia was elected as Deputy Chair of the IORA for the period 2013-2015, at the 13th IORA Council of Ministers Meeting in Perth, Australia. On that occasion, the then-Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Marty Natalegawa, reiterated that the Indian Ocean has a strategic function as a bridge between three continents, thereby unlocking the potential for stronger cooperation among various countries (Dugis et al, 2020).

2011 marks the beginning of Indonesia’s initiative in the IORA in collaboration with the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium and other pertinent organizations to address the common maritime and security challenges disrupting sea lanes of communication and transportation in the Indian Ocean, particularly piracy. The Indonesian government also welcomed the UNSC Resolution 2125 on the piracy off the Somali coast in recognition of the IORA’s efforts to improve maritime stability (Ayuningtyas, 2018).

For the 2015-2017 period, Indonesia served as the IORA’s Chair. In this case, Indonesia is committed to maximizing the contribution of its chairmanship in the IORA, as the policies implemented by the IORA are considered to be in line with Indonesia’s vision to move towards the Global Maritime Fulcrum. This is also in line with the statement by the President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo at the 1st IORA Summit, that Indonesia would link its Global Maritime Fulcrum policy with other IORA member countries’ respective policies (Prasetya et al, 2018).

The 1st IORA Summit, which was held on March 5-7, 2017 in Jakarta, resulted in the Action Plan 2017-2021 to implement various priorities stated in the Jakarta Concord. The Action Plan outlines the planned activities related to these priorities for the coming years and consists of short-, medium-, and long-term initiatives. In addition to the Jakarta Concord’s signing, IORA also agreed to the “Declaration on Preventing and Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism”.

During its Chairmanship, Indonesia is committed to host various important events in collaboration with relevant ministries and institutions, namely the 3rd Indian Ocean Dialogue, International Symposium “IORA 20th Anniversary: Learning from the Past and Charting the Future”, IORA Business Innovation Center (BIC), IORA Guide for Investment, The 2nd Blue Economy Conference, Regional Workshop: “The Intersection of Culture and Civilization in the Indian Ocean”, and IORAG Cultural Expo.

The meeting point between President Jokowi’s Global Maritime Fulcrum and IORA’s priorities is mainly on the IORA’s agenda to actualize maritime safety and security and fisheries management. Maritime security and safety in the Indian Ocean face a number of both traditional and non-traditional challenges, namely piracy, illegal fishing, human trafficking, drug smuggling, weapons trafficking, maritime pollution, and climate change. IORA strives to ensure the safe movement of people, goods, energy, and resources through the Indian Ocean.

Jokowi’s Global Maritime Fulcrum explicate that Indonesia will manage marine resources by developing seafood sovereignty through the development of the fishing industry; implementing the development of maritime infrastructure and connectivity, including the development of the shipping industry and sea-based tourism; encouraging collaborations to prevent potential conflicts in the ocean, such as fishing theft, violation of sovereignty, territorial disputes, piracy, and marine pollution; and forming a multinational maritime defense force to safeguard national sovereignty and wealth as well as shipping safety and maritime security (Roza, 2015).

According to Ibrahim Almuttaqi, Director of the ASEAN Program Habibie Center, Indonesia’s involvement in the IORA is basically continuous with the former’s foreign policy goals that the Indonesian government should encourage Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) opportunities by strengthening bilateral cooperation with IORA member countries (Ibrahim Almuttaqi, 2017). Ibrahim also argued that the IORA was a mere forum for business interests, accompanied by a business summit aimed to bring together business actors. Moreover, he continued, Indonesia’s membership only has economic meaning.

In the author’s view, the fact that the IORA has diverse national interests among its member states and a very loose organizational nature would be a challenge for Indonesia to exert its influence in the region as a whole. Thus, it is necessary for the Government of Indonesia to develop a strategy that is right on target so that the agenda desired by Indonesia as a member of the IORA can benefit Indonesia as well as other parties in the region.

Indonesia currently plays an active role in the IORA as the former has interests to prevent the Earth’s third-largest ocean from being capitalized on as a theater for the great powers’ competition to gain influence or foothold there, such as the United States, India, Japan, and China. The aforementioned powers are certainly motivated by their respective economic interests and geopolitical strategies, especially the latter with ambitions to build the Maritime Silk Road in accordance with the Belt and Road Initiative. In the context of preventing this, it is time for Indonesia to show its worthiness in leadership role.

Seluruh pandangan dari tulisan ini merupakan opini pribadi penulis dan tidak merepresentasikan PCD Studies Center.

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