COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, has appealed to Indian Ocean rim countries and world powers to prepare for rapid changes in the political, economic and strategic environment in the Indian Ocean region such as an “unexpected growth in India’s power.”
“A framework for regulating power in the Indian Ocean and beyond is required. Of course, such a framework must be flexible enough to respond to strategic changes, for example if an unexpectedly fast Indian growth shifts the regional balance of power. It must effectively constrain, channel and process the exercise of power,” Samaraweera said addressing the South Asia Diaspora conference panel on Geo-politics in South Asia held in Singapore on July 18.
The Lankan Minister quoted the noted Indian diplomat and historian, the late K.M.Panikkar to say that India, like the other countries in the Indian sub-continent, will naturally look to expanding through the sea in the South rather through the landmass in the North because of the Himalayan range.
The Indian Ocean will become increasingly important economically and strategically. With the monopoly of the West broken, China has become a major factor, and India is waiting in the wings and could barge into the scene.
Given this scenario, the Lankan minister called for a framework for regulating power in the Indian Ocean and beyond which is based rule based and grounded in international law.
In a veiled reference to China and the problems in the South China Sea over freedom of navigation, Samaraweera said that ensuring peaceful development in the Indian Ocean requires a stable maritime environment including the freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce in accordance with international law.
This is the Indian and US position too.
Referring to Sri Lanka, Samaraweera said that from Lanka’s perspective South Asian geopolitics is closely tied to Indian Ocean geopolitics and is undergirded by an over-arching environment of rising inter-connectivity and inter-dependence.
“As such, it would be a great and ironical tragedy if Asia’s hard won independence, economic development and rising living standards led to conflict and violence rather than peace and stability. Therefore, it is our collective responsibility to identify and implement ways and means of ensuring that Asia’s rise creates the conditions for regional and global stability as opposed to chaos,” he said.
“Such thought and action is of principal importance during this period of flux when the old order is being cast aside but the new order has yet to emerge. This period of strategic opportunity brings with it the prospect of putting in place the framework of values, principles, norms, conventions and institutions necessary for peace,” the Lankan Minister said.
“This responsibility is made all the more acute as it is the first time that we Asians will be key players in determining the architecture of our regional maritime order which has been controlled by external powers more or less since Alfonso of Alberquerque made the Indian Ocean a Portuguese lake in the early 16 Century,” Samaraweera said.
Pooling of Sovereignty
Preserving the sovereignty of states, including their sovereign right to pool sovereignty and share it, must naturally be a cornerstone of this framework for peaceful development, the Lankan Minister said.
“Such a framework is unlikely to amount to much without a set of common values. One useful starting point for the development of common values for the Indian Ocean region and beyond is the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence outlined at the Colombo Powers Conference over half a century ago. The values underlying these principles can provide a starting point for updating and expanding the Five Principles to reflect the realities of an increasingly inter-connected, inter-dependent and complex world where the concept of Westphalian sovereignty is increasing outdated and irrelevant,” Samaraweera said.