Remarks of Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman in Indian Ocean Conference

MAY 13, 2023

Hello, and thank you to Prime Minister Hasina and Foreign Minister Momen for hosting the 2023 Indian Ocean Conference and for inviting me to speak to this esteemed group. Thanks also to Minister Jaishankar, India’s Ministry of External Affairs, and the India Foundation for their partnership in helping to organize this event each year.

I really wish I could be with you all in Dhaka, but I am heartened to know the United States is well represented with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Afreen Akhter leading our delegation.

I appreciate the opportunity to address this unique forum—which brings together Indian Ocean nations from Africa to South Asia all the way to the Pacific Islands—and to deliver a simple message: the United States is committed to elevating its engagement in the Indian Ocean region.

The future of the world will be determined in large part by what happens here. The Indian Ocean region is home to 2.7 billion people—more than a third of the world’s population—and with an average age of 30 years, that percentage will only grow.

It is difficult to overstate the economic significance of this region. The Indian Ocean accounts for one-fifth of the world’s ocean surface, and it connects people and economies around the globe. Its vast coastline includes some of the world’s most important shipping lanes—from the Strait of Hormuz to the Malacca Strait. Eighty percent of the world’s maritime oil shipments traverse Indian Ocean waters. Some of the planet’s most vital fisheries are here, and they play a critical role in employing people in the region and feeding people around the world.

So it makes sense that all of us have an interest in a peaceful and prosperous future for the Indian Ocean region. We share the vision embedded in this year’s conference theme… Peace, Prosperity, and Partnership for a Resilient Future. As President Biden has said, the United States is “committed for the long haul, ready to champion our vision for a positive future for the region together with friends and partners.”

At the same time, this region does face serious challenges. The climate crisis touches us all, but it has a disproportionate impact on Indian Ocean countries. For some, particularly island states, climate change represents an existential threat. Meanwhile, piracy, armed robbery at sea, and trafficking degrade maritime security. And illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing threaten blue economies, which need to be sustainable for future generations to prosper.

All of these challenges require a concerted and collaborative approach—Among all of us, countries, multilateral bodies like IORA, civil society, and people. And the United States is committed to doing our part. That’s why we’ve announced plans to provide $165 million for programs across the Indian Ocean region that address climate change adaptation and mitigation, including the transition to a clean energy future.

It’s also why we are seeking to provide $6 million, working with the U.S. Congress, for regional maritime security initiatives… partnering with Bangladesh, India, Maldives, and Sri Lanka. This funding will bolster interdiction and law enforcement capacity in the Indian Ocean’s South Asian sub-region. Partnership is critical to maritime security, and I want to acknowledge India’s leadership in this space… specifically in the fields of anti-piracy, EEZ monitoring, and disaster response.

Investment in sustainable blue economies is a force multiplier, spurring economic development and demonstrating how environmental protection and economic growth are mutually reinforcing. Through USAID, the United States invests more than $33 million in 15 countries each year to promote sustainable fisheries and conserve marine biodiversity. And in this region, we are working to identify development assistance, including to Bangladesh, focused on growing sustainable blue economies.

We are doing this because the promise of the Indian Ocean region is limitless. We are doing this because unlocking its full potential requires all of us to come together. And while we are taking action to address common challenges, we are also here to listen. I hope you’ll share your ideas for how the United States can further develop our partnership with Deputy Assistant Secretary Akhter and the rest of our delegation.

In the coming months, we’ll look for ways to build on the momentum you generate in your conversations this week. And we’ll continue to advance our shared vision so we can build a more peaceful, prosperous, and resilient Indian Ocean region… together.

Thank you again for inviting me to speak today, and I wish you all a great conference.