"Sri Lanka needs the support of its friends instead of the criticism and admonishment that seems to feature large on the agenda of certain nations that seek to dwell continually on the past. This is not constructive. Instead, meaningful economic cooperation and the strengthening of genuine diplomatic relationships with its allies is what Sri Lanka seeks", said the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa making the keynote address at the opening session of the 'Galle Dialogue 2013' international maritime conference yesterday (25).
Speaking further, the Secretary said that the importance of the Galle Dialogue is reflected by the increasing turnout of delegates over the years and with the successful conclusion of the CHOGM within a short period of time since the dawn of peace, highlights the country's increasing stature in international affairs.
Emphasizing on the historic importance of the Indian Ocean he said that there has been a pronounced shift in focus back to the Indian Ocean in recent years. From a geostrategic and geopolitical perspective, the Indian Ocean is gaining more importance as Asian nations such as China and India are gaining in prominence.
Rapid growth in trade and the criticality of its sea lines of communication to the global economy and also to contain piracy it has seen a significant naval presence of many world powers including both regional and extra-regional nations such as the US, UK, France and China. Sri Lanka too is presently engaged in enhancing its naval and coast guard capabilities and plays its part in improving the safety of the region.
Drawing attention to actions taken to contain piracy and armed robbery in the Indian Ocean region Mr. Rajapaksa said, with several resolutions in the UN Security Council after 2008 the counter piracy coalition forces were set up and also regional powers stepped up naval operations. Despite these efforts piracy continued to increase but has seen a decrease in the past two years which can be attributed to the presence of private armed security teams on board merchant vessels. A change of policy in this regard by many nations has led to a rise in the presence of on board private security teams.
He noted that Sri Lanka has taken a lead in providing such security solutions with creating a fully state owned security company and later a Public Private Partnership manned by well trained and experienced personnel in confirming to international standards. Its efforts have paid off well and Sri Lanka is increasingly gaining recognition as an important contributor to the security of the Sea Lanes of Communication in the Indian Ocean.
The Secretary stressing on the need to contain illicit trafficking of narcotics, weapons and people said that this could have a detrimental impact on the national security of littoral nations as money earned through such activities by criminal elements could be funneled to fund terrorist activities and cited the LTTE as an example.
He called upon the nations for a collective effort to share intelligence, increase coordination and establish bi-lateral and multi-national mechanisms to counter threats as individual countries cannot effectively address these issues alone. Terrorist activity on sea is a potential threat and though ideologies and agendas may differ among terrorist groups they may emulate modus operandi's to create danger at sea.
Mr. Rajapaksa was appreciative of the Australian Government's decision to gift two patrol vessels to Sri Lanka to augment its operational capacity to combat illegal trafficking and contribute more to the stability and security of the Indian Ocean.
Speaking further he stressed on the enormous intrinsic value of the Indian Ocean for the countries in the region but cautioned on the danger that exists in continued overexploitation which would increase its vulnerability in the future. He noted that extra-territorial large scale illegal fishing is especially problematic for local fishing communities in developing nations and also said that regional nations should regulate fishing in their exclusive economic zones if these problems are to be mitigated.
From a Sri Lankan perspective he maintained that Indo-Lanka ties are historic and robust in spite of occasional bilateral issues and relations with China is deep rooted and multi-faceted. He appreciated China's support as one the foremost development partners, especially in building the Hambantota port in a commercial capacity and added that it should not be misconstrued as fitting the "String of Pearls" paradigm. "Sri Lanka has always pursued a non-aligned foreign policy" he reiterated.
The rapid and equitable growth for all people is one of the primary concerns of the Government in the post war development era and in this context Sri Lanka has launched the "5-Hub" growth strategy that aims to position the country as a Naval, Aviation, Commercial, Energy and Knowledge hub in this region he revealed. The Naval hub concept seeks to maximize the potential of Sri Lanka's strategic position at the intersection of major international sea trading routes in the Indian Ocean.
Smaller ports around the country are also being developed to cater to regional trade, fishing, and tourism, sailing and related industries. As one of the largest natural harbours, Trincomalee Port is now being transformed into a metropolitan growth centre for the North Eastern Sri Lanka with new port infrastructure, shipbuilding & repair facilities and bunkering & ship services coming up.
Overall security and stability of the entire Indian Ocean region is critical for the global economy, and Sri Lanka is proud to play its part by fulfilling its responsibilities in its maritime domain, he said.