Sri Lanka and India discuss fast tracking Indian Ocean naval, security deal

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had discussed the need to fast track an agreement on freedom of navigation and security during bilateral talks on the sidelines of a conference on the Indian Ocean held in Vietnam.

Swaraj and Wickremesinghe had agreed that the Indian Ocean Conference, which is being held for the third successive year, is the best forum to hammer out an agreement on freedom of navigation, peace and security in the Indian Ocean, a statement from the Prime Minister’s office said.

The discussion had noted that in addition to the annual conference, more rounds of discussions are needed among stakeholders to reach their objectives quickly and in a more systematic way.

The main conference was initiated by India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Singapore.

The conference in Ha Noi is being held on the theme of developing a regional architecture.

Sri Lanka has already become a key cog in the Belt and Road architecture developed by China.

China is jointly owning and operating Hambantota port on a long term lease, for which it loaned over billion US dollars, but Sri Lanka was not able to operate profitably.

China also operates a container terminal in Colombo Port.

Though Sri Lanka called bids to operate a third terminal for which top international shipping lines, with Indian firms as consortium members responded the shipping ministry did not go ahead with the deal.

India is nervous about increasing Chinese investment in Sri Lanka’s port.

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India is expected to take a stake in Mattala Airport, which was also built with Chinese debt and is making losses.

The third Indian Ocean Conference is being held in Vietnam, which has seen freedom of navigation restricted by China in the East Sea in what it says is its exclusive economic zone.

China has pressured Vietnam to stop oil exploration and regularly rams fishing boats operating off Lý SÆ¡n island in international waters that China has claimed. (Colombo/Aug26/2018)