Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa today said it was unfortunate that there was a degree of mistrust between the major powers in the Indian Ocean region that presently limited the degree to which effective and long lasting multilateral cooperation could be achieved.
“India is the largest naval power in the region, and has a vital role to play with regard to the future of the Indian Ocean. The United States has also an extremely significant naval presence in this strategic region,” he said.
He made this statement at the third Galle Dialogue organized by the Sri Lanka Navy with the participation of 27 countries. This year’s theme was ‘Strategic Maritime Cooperation and Partnership to face the future with Confidence’.
He said at the same time it was apparent that the influence of China in the region was also expanding rapidly. China’s military modernization is increasing naval presence in blue waters and its expanding economic influence in countries in this region has been viewed with wariness by India and the United States of America, he said.
“The increasing presence of the Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean, as well as its increasing involvement in counter piracy operations in this region, has also been viewed with some concern by the same powers,” he said.
“However, China has an industry intensive economy that requires oil imports amounting to more than 200 million tonnes every year. It is obvious that the safety and stability of the Indian Ocean is critical for China’s energy security and its increasing interest and increasing naval presence in this region is quite understandable,” the Defence Secretary said.
He said the assistance China had given to many countries for the development of deep water ports in this region had been an even more contentious issue but from the Chinese perspective its economy expands through its rapid development however the presence of Chinese funded ports in critical positions throughout this ocean region could be perceived by India as an attempt to encircle it from the south. “It is easy to understand this sensitivity,” Mr. Rajapaksa said.
“I wish to clarify that the Chinese investment in the Hambantota port is a purely economic one. On average, more than three hundred ships cross the Indian Ocean approximately ten nautical miles south of Sri Lanka every day. The economic potential this presented was identified long ago,” he noted.
Mr. Rajapaksa also said Sri Lanka welcomed any assistance from anybody willing to give it without harsh conditions being attached and it should not be misunderstood as a form of alignment with any one country.
“The energy security of many nations also depends on ships that transport fuel through this ocean for their power requirements. Indian Ocean faces a number of threats such as piracy, terrorism, human smuggling, drug trafficking and illegal waste disposal which are serious threats to the security, stability and sustainability of the Indian Ocean region,” he said.
He said that the Galle Dialogue would be instrumental in fostering improved multilateral cooperation between the nations with an interest in this region. (Supun Dias)