COLOMBO: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that Lanka will not allow other countries to set up naval bases in it.
“We would like to reiterate that there would be no naval bases allocated to other countries within Sri Lanka,” Wickremesinghe declared in his keynote address at the 6 the annual international naval conference called “Galle Dialogue” at the south Lankan port city of Galle on Monday.
The Prime Minister’s remark is significant in the light of China’s alleged bid to set up a naval base in Lanka as part of its plan to set up naval bases and civilian ports nicknamed the “String of Pearls” across Asia.
“The adoption of a Chinese strategy of soft diplomacy in Asia and East Africa, along with the construction of new ports such as Hambantota and the String of Pearls Theory, has raised concerns of a possible Chinese long term plan to extend its sea power to the Indian Ocean,” Wickremesinghe said.
However, he acknowledged that China also has its concerns about Western designs in the region. “There are concerns raised by the Chinese about a US-Indian strategic vision for the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean region,” he said.
Calling for an “inclusive” approach to the issue of maritime security and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region, since no single country can ensure security unaided by others, Wickremesinghe said that the conflicting interests of the various stakeholders will have to be reconciled. No one nation can dictate terms to others, he stressed.
“History bears witness that the littoral states in the region have always resisted domination by any single entity. It must then be asserted that all the countries of the region must jointly commit themselves to upholding the freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean while preventing any demands placed on its usage by the ships of one single nation,” he said.
Role For US Navy
In the Lankan PM’s view, the stakeholders in the Indian Ocean are not just the littoral states, but the economies of the European Union, Japan, China, South Korea and the US.
But among these countries, the US has a special role as the US had taken over from the British Navy, the responsibility of ensuring security in the ocean.
“Sri Lanka understands the role of the US Navy and the requirement of the littoral states to include the US Navy in implementing the obligations to uphold the freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean. It is absurd to keep the US out when it has three operating fleets in the region,” Wickremesinghe said.
“Further, the resources of the Chinese navy are not on par with the capabilities of the US navy, even in the long term, as evident in the Chinese military strategy White Paper 2015,” he pointed out.
Lankan Blue Water Navy
Delineating the role of the Sri Lankan navy in ensuring freedom of navigation, Wickremesinghe said that Lanka can look into the creation of a “small sea going navy which will undertake responsibilities jointly with other nations towards ensuring freedom of navigation from the Arabian Sea to the Malacca and Indonesian Straits.”
Positioning itself as an economic hub in the Indian Ocean region, Lanka has “significant interest” in the Bay of Bengal and the following routes: Eight degree channel; one and a half degree channel; equatorial channel in an around the Maldives; and the Ninth degree channel, the Lankan PM said. Further, Lanka will also go in for air surveillance capability and set up a Special Task Force to combat international terrorism.