Sri Lankan Prime Minister calls for freedom of navigation at OBOR summit in Beijing

Sri Lankan Prime Minister calls for freedom of navigation at OBOR summit in Beijing

Beijing, May 15 ( In a speech at the One Belt One Road (OBOR) summit here on Monday, which will please New Delhi, Washington and Tokyo, Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, urged participating countries to ensure peace and rule-based freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean.

The speech appeared to be a mild censure of China which is accused by Japan, the US and India of  breaking the established rules of navigation in the South China Sea. It is feared that China might replicate this in the Indian Ocean in which it is showing an increasing interest.

At the outset, Wickremesinghe praised China’s Belt and Road Initiative and said that it will provide the much needed hard and soft connectivity in the Indian Ocean required for rapid economic and social development.

But he also warned that the initiative will succeed only of peace and freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean are maintained.

“History has shown that peace and freedom of navigation has always resulted in economic growth and prosperity.  Similarly, the success of this Initiative and the Hub (OBOR) will also depend on the maintenance of long-term stability in the Indian Ocean by (i) promoting peaceful and non-military cooperation – the 5 principles of Peaceful Co-existence and (ii) ensuring unimpeded commerce based on the multilateral trading system,”  Wickremesinghe said.

The summit was attended by 29 of the 68 countries expected to be part of the global infrastructural development scheme devised and primarily funded by China.

“The Indian Ocean Rim with its sustained growth and an expanding population will become the fastest growing region.  The high rates of growth in South Asia is one of the main  drivers of this growth.  The Belt and Road Initiative will further accelerate this process ,” the Sri Lankan Prime Minister said.

On Sri Lanka’s economic plans he said: “Sri Lanka plans to use its strategic location and leverage on our connectivity to become the Hub of the Indian Ocean. The government has already commenced the development of the three major ports – Colombo, Hambantota and Trincomalee, and the two international airports – Colombo and Mattala, which are all connected by road and rail to the proposed special Economic Zones.

These initiatives will transform Sri Lanka into a shipping, aviation and a logistics hub.  Sri Lanka is also focusing on building the hard infrastructure such as the roads, water supply and power supply.”

Linking Sri Lanka’s plans with the OBOR project, he said: “The Belt and Road Initiative complements Sri Lanka’s own initiative as they share the same synergies.  Several of these advanced infrastructure projects, including the Hambantota Port, the Mattala airport and the Southern expressway have been carried out with finances from the Chinese institutions such as the Exim Bank.”

“Furthermore, Sri Lanka is strengthening financial connectivity by establishing an offshore financial center in the Port City, which is a Real Estate Development project commenced under the Belt and Road Initiative.”

“Sri Lanka is also expanding trade connectivity.  Today the EU Journal will grant us the GSP+ Tariff Concessions.  The FTA with India is being deepened.  We are also negotiating FTAs with China and Singapore.”

“We have undertaken the restructuring of our economy including financial stabilization,  reviewing administrative regulations to cut red tape, lowering  tariffs and introducing a simpler tax system.”

“These measures will fully integrate us with the Global Value Chain thereby obtaining the maximum benefits of the 4th Industrial Revolution.”

The Belt and Road Initiative is the first economic cooperation arrangement connecting the Eurasian continents.  Combining the high-income economies with the fast growing economies, it will create new opportunities for the growth of global trade, Wickremesinghe said.

“This initiative is proposed by President Xi Jinping; China is providing the initial funding.  But we cannot pass all responsibility to China.  I commend the Bretton Woods Institution for coming forward to assist.  All of us must take ownership,” the Sri Lankan leader said.

(The featured image at the top shows Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe meeting the Chinese President XXi Jinping at the OBOR summit)