Colombo, May 26: The Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged support for Indo-Pacific maritime security in his address to the 27th International conference on ‘Future of Asia’ organized by the Japanese publication Nikkei on Thursday.
Given Japan’s deep anxiety about maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region, the Lankan President said: “Maritime security in Asia is another thorny issue that requires serious policy attention. In addition to traditional security concerns involving the projection of naval power, many non-traditional issues including piracy, human trafficking, drug-smuggling, and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing continue to pose challenges in this region.”
Sri Lanka, has established a strong relationship with dominant regional players including Japan. Sri Lanka has responsibility for protecting sea routes, maritime resources and combating maritime crime over a significant region of the Indian Ocean, and we look forward to partnering with the Asian community as we seek to expand our capacities in these areas in future,” he added.
In a surprising reference to youth power which is manifesting itself in Sri Lanka in the form of the “Go Home Gotabaya” campaign, the Lankan President said: “ A positive aspect of recent events in Sri Lanka has been the increased engagement of our youth in the nation’s politics. We have seen similar activism in other countries too, where the loss of confidence in prevailing systems has led to strong displays of opposition against governments.”
“It is important to ensure that these systems undergo the reforms that are essential to their improvement so that future generations will benefit from better opportunities in education and employment, leading to an increase in their productivity.”
Referring to the dire economic situation in Sri Lanka, the President sought international help, especially bridge financing, and said: “We urgently require the assistance of our friends in the international community to ensure that our immediate needs in terms of the importation of essential medicines, food supplies, and fuel are met. We are also in urgent need of bridging financing to restore confidence in our external sector and stabilise our economy until the debt restructuring process is completed and an IMF programme commences.”
Calling upon Japan to give a helping hand, the President said: “Japan remains one of Sri Lanka’s key development partners, and we hope that the negotiations now underway regarding bridging funds from Japan will conclude soon, and support Sri Lanka as we try to stabilise our economy and our nation.”
“It is a matter of great pride to us that Japan has always been and continues to be one of Sri Lanka’s key development cooperation partners, providing significant aid and financial assistance for our nation’s socioeconomic development over time.”
Thanking India for rushing help to beleaguered Sri Lanka, the Lankan President said: “ Sri Lanka is grateful for the support provided by India, our close friend and neighbour, which responded with generosity in our time of need. The support extended by our other neighbours and development partners, as well as regional and global institutions, is also deeply appreciated.”
An even more widespread problem that the world will face in future concerns food security, the President said.
“The shortages of food items and sharp increases in food prices likely to occur in the months ahead will place considerable strain on many countries. It is therefore essential that we pay attention to this crucial problem and prioritise agricultural production locally and improve our resilience in the face of this coming issue. Increased cooperation amongst nations will also be necessary to ensure that we overcome this issue.”
Referring to an enduring regional concern, namely, civil unrest, conflicts, and communal violence, the President said: “Sri Lanka too has been marred by sectarian tensions throughout its history. I am of the view that policymakers must come together to devise collaborative regional mechanisms on such issues. “
“Exchanging expertise and experience to build capacity in the fields of peacebuilding and reconciliation is essential. So too is the empowerment of the underprivileged, because this is one of the root causes of unrest.”
Divided Regional Bodies
On the divisions which stymie the functioning of regional associations, the Lankan President said: “I respectfully submit to this forum that the core objectives and functioning of some existing regional bodies are presently affected by conflicts of member countries on matters relating to economic, political, or strategic interests. It is my hope that member countries of regional bodies will be able to overcome impasses and work together in the true spirit of Asia to fulfil the region’s priorities.”