Daily Mirror - Print Edition

Prez stresses need to keep Indian Ocean free of Taiwan issue

27 Mar 2023 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

  • Says it is important for SL’s future
  • SL supports ASEAN’s vision of the Indo-Pacific region

President Ranil Wickremesinghe said that it is essential for Sri Lanka’s future to ensure that the issues of the Asia Pacific, especially that of Taiwan, does not spill over into the Indian Ocean. 

He made such remarks during an interview organized by Harvard University on March 24, through Zoom technology. 

He said that Sri Lanka’s access to the growing Indian and African markets should not be disrupted by any big power rivalry or conflict. The President also highlighted the rising competition between China and the Quad, which has been further aggravated by the newly formed ‘Aukus’ pact between Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. 

Additionally, he stated that Sri Lanka supports ASEAN’s vision of the Indo-Pacific region and is committed to ensuring the freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean and the security of undersea cables, as it is essential for the future of the country.

“Sri Lanka’s access to the growing Indian market as well as the opening of African markets cannot be disrupted and should not be disrupted by big power, rivalry or conflict. So this is a story of a country, a small country, but a country with a strong democratic tradition, with an open economy which has been nonaligned, of arising out of the ashes of its old economy, to build a new economy going hand-in-hand with the developments in the Asian region and India,” he said.

Asserting that Sri Lanka maintained its political independence, India is regarded as the net security provider in the region and is Sri Lanka’s closest neighbour with the longest ties.
Also, he said Sri Lanka is also a member of the Belt and Road Initiative. However, the presence of the Chinese Sea Fleet ships and the formation of the Quad, the security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan and the US have complicated peace and security in the Indian Ocean. We have close ties with all the members of the Quad as well as China.
“The rising level of competition between China and the Quad has further been aggravated by the newly formed ‘Aukus’, the pact between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. Sri Lanka accepts the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific territories. We regard the Indo-Pacific as consisting of two distinct oceans. Our country is committed to the freedom of navigation and the security of undersea cables in the Indian Ocean,” he said.

Responding to a question on the Chinese-built Hambantota port, he said the Chinese don’t own the port. 

“We own the port, but we have given all the operations of the port to China Merchants. This is because we found that the Colombo Port Authority was unable to manage the port, and we were making big losses. There were no takers for the port, except China Merchant. Our other option was to close it.

But the security of the port is controlled by the Government of Sri Lanka, and the Southern Command of Sri Lanka’s Navy will be in Hambantota. A number of US and Japanese warships have visited the port. The port has no basic military value. The Chinese will not use it for military purposes. They can’t. We have had regular consultations with the US in regard to this port as well as dealings with the Chinese.

But looking at the arrangement at the ports that the Chinese are building in Africa and somewhere in the Bay of Bengal, this will be certainly a crucial port as far as commercial activities are concerned. I think this will be one of the ports where the goods are assembled and reshipped to other destinations. I can’t see a military use for it and the Chinese haven’t the ability to have a large number of warships in the Indian Ocean in any way, to counter India and the US,” he said.