Sri Lanka seeks Indian Ocean treaty for free navigation, overflight: PM

Sri Lanka plans to push for an international arrangement to guarantee freedom of navigation in the India Ocean as naval build up is underway by major powers and economic potential is untapped, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe said.

The security concerns are not fully addressed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Wickremesinghe told an international forum on the Indian Ocean in Colombo.

“Therefore, Sri Lanka intends working with all our partners in creating a shared vision for economic and security engagement,” he said.

“We remain convinced that a code of conduct that ensures the freedom of navigation in our Ocean will be an essential component of this vision.

“In this regard, as I mentioned earlier Sri Lanka will soon commence exploratory discussions on convening a meeting to deliberate on a stable legal order on freedom of navigation and over flight in the Indian Ocean.”

He said an estimated 40 percent of the world offshore oil comes of the Indian Ocean with large reserves in the seas off Saudi Arabia, Iran, India and Western Australia. There were beach sands and offshore placer deposits rich in minerals.

Unlike many other oceans, fish was still plentiful in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean however had several choke points.

“In terms of the Maritime build up taking place in the Indian Ocean, we see major players such as India, Australia, USA, China, and Japan envisaging various projects ranging from ocean excavation to placing remote sensors for ocean research,” Wikremesinghe said.

“The latter three are increasing their forward naval presence.

“Naval power will play a greater role in the regional maritime affairs.  This will in turn lead to Naval power competitions, with plans for sea control as well as sea denials. ”

“In our view, the vital Sea Lanes of Communication in the Indian Ocean that fuels the global economy needs to be open for all and must be used for mutual benefit in a sustainable manner.

“It is essential to maintain peace and stability in the Indian Ocean Region which  ensures the right  of all states to the freedom of navigation and over flight.

“That unhindered lawful maritime commerce are conducted in keeping with current international laws and regulations.”

Sri Lanka intended to become a logistics hub, promoting free trade and commerce in the Indian Ocean, but there were growing conflicts in states bordering the Indian Ocean, where other powers were also involved.

“The creation of wealth and enhanced economic activity in the Indian Ocean region will not only bring benefits but will pose enormous security challenges to all of us,” he said.

“The waters of the Indian Ocean are also home to continually evolving strategic developments, including the rise of regional powers with nuclear capabilities.

“Conflicts in the Gulf, unrest in Iraq and Afghanistan, rise of violent extremism, growing incidents of piracy in and around the Horn of Africa loom over our region.

“Given the rising conflicts in the Middle East and West Asia, world’s major powers have deployed substantial military forces in that part of the Indian Ocean Region.”

He sad Sri Lanka’s plan to develop Hambantota Port with China had no military aspect.

“I state clearly that Sri Lanka’s Government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena does not enter into military alliances with any country or make our bases available to foreign countries.

“We will continue military cooperation such as training, supply of equipment and taking part in joint exercises with friendly countries.

“Only the Sri Lanka Armed Forces have the responsibility for military activities in our Ports and Airports. We are also working with foreign private investors on the commercial development of our ports.”

China has tried to block the movement of ships and aircraft over the South China Sea (East Sea) and also created problems for countries like Vietnam and China raising global concerns.

Meanwhile Wickremesinhe said Indian Ocean nations must also protectionist tariffs on their people to help them prosper and boost trade freedoms.

Unlike in East Asia, the Indian Ocean region did not have a free trade arrangement but Sri Lanka was engaging in bilateral arrangements. (Colombo/Sept01/2017)

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