Sri Lanka push freedom of navigation at China’s One Belt, One Road forum

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative will help expand trade, but non-military co-operation and freedom of navigation must be ensured.

Sri Lanka is engaged in a delicate balancing act with India, which is suspicious of China’s military ambitions in the region. Restrictions on shipping and overflight in the South China Sea by China has also sent jitters among smaller nations in Asia.

Last week, reports said Sri Lanka denied entry to a Chinese submarine to its ports as India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the island.

"History has shown that peace and freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean always resulted in economic growth and prosperity," Wickremesinghe said in a text of a speech released to the media.

"Similarly, the success of this Initiative and the Hub will also depend on the maintenance of long-term stability in the Indian Ocean by (i) promoting peaceful and non-military cooperation – the 5 principles of peaceful co-existence, and (ii) ensuring unimpeded commerce based on the multilateral trading system."

Wickremesinghe said South Asia was already growing at high rates. "Sri Lanka plans to use its strategic location and leverage on our connectivity to become the Hub of the Indian Ocean."

"The Government has already commenced the development of the three major ports – Colombo, Hambantota and Trincomalee, and the two international airports – Colombo and Mattala, which are all connected by road and rail to the proposed special Economic Zones. These initiatives will transform Sri Lanka into a shipping, aviation and logistics hub."

While China will invest in Hambantota and Mattala, with investments already in Colombo, India is expected to expand their interests in Trincomalee and Colombo. (Colombo/May15/2017)

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