Addressing the first ever graduation ceremony of the National Defence College in Colombo, President Wickremesinghe said the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean has turnedSri Lanka into the regional ‘punching bag’.
He pointed out that there are around 17 ports operated by the Chinese in the Indian Ocean and they are all commercial ports, adding that, Hambantota is also a commercial port and not a military port.
Speaking further he said the Indian Ocean region should be open to all to ensure freedom of navigation for commercial viability. He noted that Sri Lanka will not participate in military alliances and does not want the problems of the Pacific coming into the Indian Ocean. In this scenario, he urged regional nations to come together to look at how best to maintain stability.
President Wickremesinghe emphasised, “It is important for commerce to carry on. We have to remember that a bulk of the petroleum supply and energy supply to the world goes through the Indian Ocean. A large amount of shipping goes through the Indian Ocean. We don’t want this to be an area of conflict and an area of war.”
He noted that Sri Lanka does not want to see a big power rivalry in the region which could get reflect everywhere while adding that the country is open to the Navies of all countries, with no discrimination. “If the Navies want to come, we have no problem. They helped in the anti-piracy operations. But we don’t want a level of rivalry which will affect the security and the peace of our area. Whatever it be that we will not join any big power or take sides, we will stay out of it. And, that’s why we want to ensure the big powers and their rivalries don’t lead to conflict in the Indian Ocean. That’s one thing we can’t afford.”
The President pointed out that if there is security significance, it is in the Port of Darwin in Australia where the Chinese ports are operating side by side, where Australian and US forces are training. “We don’t have that. We don’t allow anyone to come and train here, but we do have our southern command of the Navy. We have a divisional headquarters of the Army and we have a detachment of the Air Force. But none of them are involved. They only ensure that this is a commercial port and no less,” he said, adding that it is a commercial port.
“It shows Sri Lanka’s strategic importance and that many people sort of come to conclusions which are unwarranted.” The President also expressed hope that the next agreement Sri Lanka has with China, will not cause such speculation and is only about debt reduction for Sri Lanka.
While highlighting the importance of safeguarding the security of India and other neighbouring countries, President Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka must ensure that nothing adverse happens to the security of India.
“When it comes to the security of Sri Lanka, we are of the view that in looking after the security of Sri Lanka, we must also ensure that nothing adverse happens to the security of India. That, we have been committed to and we will go ahead with it. There will be no movement out of it. That’s why we work with India on the Colombo conclave, on the trilateral security arrangements and many other fields, especially outside the military field of piracy, of human trafficking, of drugs. All those are useful ways in which we cooperate with India and the other island States. Then, we also value our friendship with the Maldives, those small islands, and we know how important the Maldives is,” he said.
He also said that now the terrorism war is over, peace needs to be established in the country and he expects to reach a final settlement with the Tamils and the Northern population of the country within the next few months. In this regard, the President said that he is currently in discussion with the Tamil parliamentarians in order to achieve that goal.
Meanwhile, the President also said that Sri Lanka should not allow any other country to use it to attack third parties. He also said that a proper plan needs to be set to determine the roles of Sri Lanka’s Army, Navy and Air Force in the future battlefield.
State Minister of Defence Pramitha Bandara Tennakoon, Secretary, Ministry of Defence General Kamal Gunaratne, Commander of the Army Lieutenant General Vikum Liyanage, Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne, Commander of the Air Force Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana, Inspector General of Police C. D. Wickramaratne, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Defence R. M. P. S. Rathnayake, Commandant of the National Defence College Major General Amal Karunasekara, Director, Department of National Budget W. M. S. K. Weerasekara and Secretary, National Defence College Brigadier Asanga Perera also graced the occasion.