A vision in blue: Japan and the Indian Ocean
21 Mar 2016|

Last week I spoke at the
Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Conference sponsored by the National Security College at the ANU and supported by the Embassy of Japan in Australia. I was asked to address the question of where Japan could contribute to maritime security in the Indian Ocean.

I argued that the Indian Ocean has enormous potential for harnessing blue economy resources and that the blue economy concept has the potential to act as a key catalyst for sustainable development through the Indo-Pacific region.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop launched the Blue Economy Initiative during the Indian Ocean Rim Association Council of Ministers’ Meeting in Perth in October 2014. Japan’s a key Dialogue partner in IORA.

The blue economy incorporates not just traditional maritime industries such as fisheries, shipping and ports but also developing industries like aquaculture, renewable energy technologies for wind, wave and tidal power, bio-products (pharmaceutical and agrichemicals), blue carbon (carbon sequestration) and desalination.

Japan wishes to promote prosperity and stability in the Indian Ocean and seeks to achieve that through maritime security and safety and sustainable economic growth.

Japan has proven expertise and demonstrated real contributions in ensuring freedom and safety of navigation, as witnessed by Japanese contributions to improving navigation safety in the Straits of Malacca.

At the NSC conference I set out five areas where Japan’s ocean industry expertise could be shared to promote the blue economy in the region.

First, Indian Ocean states are looking seaward for alternative non-conventional renewable sources of energy. There’s interest in offshore solar power as having high potential as a major source of energy. Japan can help here.

Japan’s largest solar power plant, the Kyocera Corporation’s Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant, is an offshore technology built on reclaimed land jutting the waters of Kagoshima Bay, generating 70 MW of energy in Kagoshima City.

The project has an annual power generation capacity of 78,800MWh and is expected to supply clean electricity to approximately 22,000 average households.

Second, while there’s been no commercial developments to date there’s still international interest in deep-sea mining in the Indian Ocean.

For polymetallic nodules, Japan is a pioneer investor in the Indian Ocean and the International Seabed Authority entered into contract with Japan after the Law of the Sea Convention came into effect. Japan can help with mining technology, processing technology and environmental impact assessment.

There’s also growing interest in developments in relation to deep water gas hydrates energy reserves  (reservoirs of gas trapped in ice crystals) where Japan is at the cutting edge.

India and Japan last year carried out a joint survey for gas hydrates using a Japanese drilling ship in the Indian Ocean. Japan has set itself the target of bringing methane hydrates into the mainstream by the early 2020s. Prime Minister Modi has listed work on gas hydrates among the top 10 potential areas of research for India.

Third, R&D in marine biotechnology is emerging as a promising sector for growth and employment in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean region is rich in marine biodiversity: we’re likely to see the realisation of marine biotechnology potential, including the culture of a range of marine organisms for biofuels, bioremediation and bioproducts.  

Japan can work with Indian Ocean states to realise some of the economic benefits. Out of the total 677 international claims between 1991 and 2009 of marine gene patents, 90 per cent of the total are held by just 10 countries. Japan comes in at third place.

Fourth, aquaculture is a key driver of the Blue Economy in the Indian Ocean providing food, nutrition and employment opportunities to the people in the region. Since capture fisheries face the problem of overfishing in the region, the challenges of food security can be addressed through aquaculture production. Aquaculture has the potential to transform the global food system for the better.

Japan has tremendous skills in this industry and can assist Indian Ocean rim states in developing aquaculture systems that expand the range of foods and the nutritional content of those foods, while ensuring that the industry is economically and environmentally sustainable.

There’s talk of seaweed as the new superfood. Japan is world leading in the development and marketing of seaweed. But let’s be honest: many people aren’t going to want to eat seaweed, and wouldn’t know how to prepare it anyway! Japan can assist not just on the technology challenges here, but also the marketing and cultural challenges.

Finally, Japan can strengthen the digital blue economy in the Indian Ocean: the undersea cables and the electronic services that they can enable, such as broadband and data exchange. Japan can contribute to the growing digital fabric connecting the Indian Ocean: it’s got some of world’s top vendors of submarine cable systems.

The concept of the blue economy in the region is evolving, with more countries and businesses wishing to tap Indian Ocean resources for economic growth and investment. The blue economy is an obvious area where Japan can work with Australia and also India. Japan welcomes the rise of India. New Delhi has, for example, recently opened the door to working with Japan on developing and upgrading civilian infrastructure on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal. The Japan–Australia–India trilateral dialogue was launched last June, and met again in Tokyo last month, paving the way for greater cooperation between the three countries in the Indian Ocean.  

I have no doubt that Japan sees the value of blue economic growth in the Indian Ocean and will share its ocean industry skills, data and knowledge with the region.