India warns Sri Lanka over maritime security concerns
By Rohan Gunasekera
Sep 25, 2015 08:57 AM GMT+0530 | 6 Comment(s)
ECONOMYNEXT – India's envoy in Sri Lanka has warned the island to be mindful of her big neighbour’s maritime security concerns, saying their neglect could affect bilateral relations.
Y K Sinha, High Commissioner of India in Sri Lanka, said Colombo port was heavily dependent on Indian container transhipment cargo and that India was keen to boost trade and investment with the island.
"Thirty percent of Indian cargo goes through Colombo port," he told the India – Sri Lanka Maritime Forum which preceded the Colombo International Maritime Conference that began Thursday.
"Container cargo to and from India accounts for 70 percent of Colombo’s transhipment cargo."
Sinha said extensive maritime links between the two countries had boosted bilateral trade which had grown several times since a free trade agreement was signed between them.
India and Sri Lanka were working closely in the area of maritime security, Sinha said.
But there were “matters of some concern” to India, he noted, an apparent reference to Indian concerns over Sri Lanka’s tilt towards China under the regime of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa who was ousted in the January presidential poll.
"A large amount of cargo handled by Colombo is India-centric," Sinha said.
"Because of that if there are any other issues that concern India, I think policy makers need to be sensitive to that."
Sinha said maritime security and Indian transhipment was not directly linked, which may indicate that India has no objection to their firms using a Chinese owned terminal in Colombo to tranship their cargo.
Using Colombo allows Indian exports to be more competitive either by faster delivery or lower cost and import also to be more cost-efficient, which is why shippers use the hub.
But any development which has the potential to disrupt Indian security could impact the flourishing maritime links between India and Sri Lanka, Sinha warned.
He said he had no doubt that the Sri Lankan side would be cognizant of India’s concerns and be willing to accommodate them.
A deep-water container terminal built and operated by a big Chinese port operator, China Merchants Holdings (International), twice hosted calls by Chinese attack submarines that took part in Indian Ocean anti-piracy patrols last year.
The submarine visits, as well as plans by a Chinese company to reclaim land next to Colombo port to build a 1.4 billion US dollar ‘Port City’, part of which it was to own, reportedly caused alarm in the Indian establishment.
Maritime security also figured in the talks between Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and India's Narendra Modi earlier this month.
Indian submarines lurking around Sri Lanka's territorial water or using the country as a base opens an extra southern flank for the Indian defence establishment requiring more resources to be deployed in the area, an analyst familiar with the issue said.
India already has to look after her Western and North Eastern border security with Pakistan and China. (Colombo/Sept25/2015)