SL turned into regional ‘punching bag’ – President

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe said the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean has turned Sri 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 do 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.

Addressing the first-ever graduation ceremony of the National Defence College in Colombo yesterday (15), 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 need to certainly 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 as it is a commercial port. “It shows Sri Lanka’s strategic importance 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.