Male [Maldives]: For India, China's growing presence in the Indian Ocean is a source of concern, said Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe during his address at the Indian Ocean Conference here on Tuesday.
"For China, securing the sea lanes has become a preoccupation which is Belt and Road initiative, which is intent on building roads, pipelines and ports in friendly countries around the Indian Ocean. For India, China's growing presence in the Indian Ocean is a source of concern, especially in the South Asian neighbourhood," he said.
He also highlighted the tripolar competition in the Indian Ocean during his speech at the event.
"Global energy needs are expected to double by 2030 with India and China accounting for nearly half of the new growth in demand. With such heightened economic activity, maritime security concerns are inevitable. All these political and economic developments have led to the most pressing challenge which is the tripolar competition in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean is tipped to become a theatre of contemporary global geopolitics, with India and China on one hand, and the USA and China on the other, competing for space...It is likely that the tension at sea will rise," the Prime Minister added.
Wickremesinghe started off his address by paying a tribute to the late former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
"May I preface my address this afternoon by paying tribute to the memory of Sushma Swaraj, my good friend was also a distinguished former minister of external affairs of India. When she was recovering from a prolonged illness I didn't expect her to make a journey to Hanoi. But her commitment was such that she was there with us and all of us who knew her will miss her. But we must thank and remember her for contributions she made to this conference," he said.
The leader touched on several topics during his address, including the looming threat of a global recession.
"The World Bank has forecast that the global GDP growth will slow down to 2.6 per cent this year from 3 per cent in 2018. Morgan Stanley's recently warned that the risk of a global recession is high and rising," the Sri Lankan Prime Minister said.
He also talked about the US-China trade crisis, with the Indo-Pacific being the "pivot" of the relationship.
"As we are all aware, this tension between the US and China is also changing the security temperament of the Indo-Pacific. This was evident at the Shangri-La Dialogue this year."
He also highlighted the trade flows through the Indian Ocean during his address.
Citing the example of the recent G7 summit ending without a formal communique, Wickremesinghe claimed that various multilateral bodies established over the past few decades to resolve issues are showing "severe strain".
Wickremesinghe reiterated Sri Lanka's stand to oppose military rivalry in the Indian Ocean region.
"Since independence, Sri Lanka has opposed military rivalry in the region. We will continue championing peace and stability in the region. It is for this reason that Sri Lanka took a crucial role in the UN Law of the Sea Conference. We are for a regional arrangement that accommodates the legitimate interest of all stakeholders. Regional arrangements that are not against any stakeholder. Hence we oppose area access denial. This is our policy of openness..." he further stated.
He also reinforced Sri Lanka's support for free, rules-based navigation in the Indian Ocean.
The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister also highlighted that ISIS' terror activities have become a priority security issue.
"The harrowing events that took place in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, as well as other recent terrorist attacks, are a pressing reminder of the continuing threat from violent non-state actors...The Easter bomb explosions confirm a change in ISIS strategy. After the setback in West Asia, the ISIS has turned its focus on South Asia. The 2016 bombing in Bangladesh, 2017 in Egypt and the one in Indonesia in 2018 are such indicators," he said.
Wickremesinghe also added that negotiations for an expanded trade agreement are underway with India.
"We have agreed to negotiate further agreements with Thailand and the other ASEAN States. Negotiations are also underway for a new trade agreement with China and an expanded trade agreement with India," the Prime Minister stated.