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Politics

Indian Ocean rim leaders call for closer ties amid globalization backlash

Indonesian host Widodo warns of the 'explosive' mix of technology and populism

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Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, right, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, center, and South African President Jacob Zuma attend a news conference at the Indian Ocean Rim Association leaders summit in Jakarta on March 7.   © Reuters

JAKARTA -- Nations along the Indian Ocean on Tuesday agreed to strengthen economic and security cooperation to cope with mounting global uncertainty stemming in part from the rise of populism in the West.

The Indian Ocean Rim Association held its first leaders summit in Jakarta since its establishment 20 years ago. Although no concrete business or economic deals were made during the gathering, the leaders there -- including Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and South African President Jacob Zuma -- agreed to make IORA more relevant to its 21 member states across such areas as trade, the economy, maritime security and the environment.

"All leaders realize the challenges we are facing today. All leaders realize the potential that IORA countries have," Widodo said during a joint press conference with the two aforementioned leaders. "The convening of the summit is a strategic and progressive step of IORA leaders to encourage IORA so that it will be able to move faster, able to face the current situation, and able to deal with future challenges," he added.

Widodo said among those challenges are the technological revolution and rising economic nationalism -- likely a reference to Britain's decision to leave the European Union, Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential election and the emergence of populist leaders in parts of Europe.

When combined, he said, technological revolutions and populism are "like two explosive chemicals flowing into each other."

Turnbull echoed those remarks, saying the backlash against globalization in other parts of the world means "it's more important now than ever" for Indian Ocean rim nations to work together. He added that the leaders gathered there were committed to "strong engagement" in the region.

Zuma, meanwhile, welcomed what he referred to as the "key outcome" of the IORA Business Summit the previous day, namely, a declaration to enhance partnerships between the chambers of commerce and business communities of IORA member states.

"[The business communities'] support and involvement is critical to us achieving our goals of greater economic cooperation," the South African president said.

The summit and related meetings were held in Jakarta on Sunday through Tuesday. The event drew 300 delegates from 21 IORA member states and several partner nations. Other leaders in attendance included Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi and Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena.

The leaders also agreed to enhance cooperation in such areas as counterterrorism, responsible fisheries management, disaster risk management and science and technology.

The IORA nations -- which also include India, Iran, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates -- are home to a combined 2.7 billion people, or about a third of the world's population. According to data from Indonesia's Ministry of Trade, intraregional trade among member states in 2015 stood at $777 billion, up 300% from 1994.

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