COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is on the way to becoming a maritime security hub in the Indian Ocean, as regional and extra-regional naval powers eye the island nation for striking partnerships to ensure their maritime security.
Lanka itself has signaled its wish to acquire a Blue Water navy to exploit its strategic position in the Indian Ocean and to participate in international maritime security operations.
No wonder Colombo harbor has been attracting naval ships of key players with great frequency. Despite India’s objections to the visit of a Chinese nuclear submarine in 2014, three Chinese naval vessels, Liuzhohu, Sanya and Qinghaihu, are currently in Colombo having “passage exercises” with the Lankan navy.
Not to be outdone, the Indian aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, will be here this week. India is already closely tied to the Lankan navy, regularly conducting exercises codenamed SLINEX. India has also drawn Lanka into a maritime security network connecting it to Seychelles and Mauritius, besides India. In August last year, India formally gifted to the Lankan navy the Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) Varaha, which had been in the service of the Lanka navy since 2006.
Japan, which is worried about China’s “non-transparent” military expansion and aggressive postures, sent two of its naval vessels, Ikazuchi and Murasame, to Colombo in April 2015. Japan’s anxiety to strike an anti-Chinese strategic maritime partnership with Lanka was evident in the remarks made by Japanese Ambassador Kenichi Suganuma at the maritime security dialogue held here on January 13. Drawing attention to Lanka’s location overlooking the main Sea Lanes of Communication in the Indian Ocean, Suganuma said that Lanka could help ensure safe package for international shipping which was a “major” concern for Japan. Lanka is to get two Japanese Offshore Patrol Vessels in 2017.
Meanwhile, Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been pushing for a Blue Water navy, a small one due to budget constraints, which will help Lanka carry out responsibilities thrust on it by its location. Wickremesinghe recognizes the need to work with the US, the most important countervailing force vis-a-vis China in the Indian Ocean. US Secretary of State John Kerry has already sought Lankan cooperation to ensure maritime security in the region.