Sri Lanka does not intend to enter into a military alliance of any type with any nation or make its bases available to foreign countries, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe assured yesterday.
The Prime Minister gave this assurance at the opening ceremony of the Indian Ocean Conference at Temple Trees last night.“Let me refer to Sri Lanka’s decision to develop its major sea ports, especially the Hambantota Port, which some claim to be a military base. I say this with responsibility. This government does not enter into military alliances with any country. Neither do we intend to make our bases available to foreign countries,” the Prime Minister said.
However, Mr. Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka will continue military cooperation with friendly countries such as training, supply of equipment and taking part in joint exercises. “Only the Sri Lanka Armed Forces have the right to undertake military activities in our Ports and Airports. We are also working with foreign private investors on the commercial development of our ports,” he stressed.
Speaking further, the Premier said Sri Lanka believes that Freedom of Navigation is of paramount importance for Sri Lanka to become a hub in the Indian Ocean. “We believe that maintaining the Freedom of Navigation is of paramount importance for us to achieve our goal of becoming the hub in the Indian Ocean. The availability of ports on all coasts and two international airports with good land connectivity is vital because it is only then that we can reap the full benefits of our strategic location in the Indian Ocean. Connectivity by sea and air will naturally promote logistics. Colombo will also become a centre for offshore finance and business, offering a competitive platform for manufacturing and services,” he pointed out.
“In the absence of effective multilateral trade agreements being signed for the Indian Ocean region, we have decided to enter into bilateral agreements with neighbouring littoral states. This is the only option available. We already have Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with India and Pakistan. We are in the process of improving our FTAs with India which will ensure greater economic cooperation between the two neighbours. We are in the process of finalizing an FTA with Singapore after which we will look at getting into similar trade agreements with other countries in the Bay of Bengal region. We are also negotiating an FTA with China, he said.
He added that businesses in the region must grow for intra-regional trade to develop. “These businesses require capital for expansion, which is a scarce commodity in the region. This is why I have called for the establishment of an Indian Ocean Development Fund. This Fund will make financial resources available to National Development Banks which will promote growth and expansion in the region by providing capital for business expansion,” the PM said.
He said the Indian Ocean Conference is taking place at a time when global and financial economic power shifts point toward Asia. The premier said global economic power rebalance - away from the established advanced economies in North America and Europe, will continue well into the latter part of the century. “Economic dominance, technology and military might, the basis of political power in the West has eroded to a significant extent by the extraordinary economic development of Asia in the last 50 years.
The “HSBC World in Forecast 2050” forecasts 19 countries from Asia to be the largest economies by 2050. By 2030 Asia is expected to surpass the West in terms of Global power, based on population, GDP, technology and military spending,” he said. (Yohan Perera)