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Defence minister Rajnath Singh will host a meeting of his counterparts from countries in the Indian Ocean Region on Thursday with an eye to boosting India’s role as a security partner of choice as well as securing markets for India-made defence hardware.

The one-day meeting of the Indian Ocean Region defence ministers is taking place on the sidelines of the Aero-India show in Bengaluru.

According to the defence ministry, 18 of 28 countries invited have sent their delegates with the others being represented by their diplomatic envoys in India or joining the meeting through a video link.

Four countries —Maldives, Comoros, Iran and Madagascar — will be represented at the ministerial level while Australia, Kenya, Seychelles, Mauritius, Kuwait and Myanmar will be represented by their ambassadors and high commissioners in New Delhi, the Indian defence ministry said.

“India is geographically central to the Indian Ocean and has a vast coastline of 7,500 kms. India’s vision for Security and Growth for All (SAGAR), as articulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cannot be realised without close cooperation and engagements amongst countries in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR)," the ministry said in a statement. “Navigating through the pandemic year of 2020, India is taking the lead in organizing an international platform for the world Aerospace and Defence (A&D) leaders to exchange ideas and forge partnerships towards synergizing the efforts in the A&D sector," it said.

The meeting “ is an initiative to promote dialogue in an institutional, economic and cooperative environment that can foster the development of peace, stability and prosperity in the Indian Ocean region," a ministry official said.

It would “address aspects related to defence industry--co-operation amongst participating countries, sharing of resources available in Indian defence shipyards for design and shipbuilding and Indian ports with friendly countries, information sharing towards increased maritime domain awareness, maritime surveillance and co-operation, disaster relief, responses to marine pollution and the development of technologies for harnessing marine resources," the official said.

Speaking at the start of the Aero India show on Wednesday, Singh said that India wanted to be “a reliable partner for friendly countries" adding that India’s interests lay beyond its shores.

India sees the Indian Ocean Region as its zone of influence and has been extending assistance to countries in the region — relief at the time of calamities like oil spills and cyclones besides helping in hydrographic surveys and gifting patrols boats to countries to secure their exclusive economic zones.

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