COLOMBO, Sept 15: Sri Lanka will not take part in any “big power rivalry” in the Indian Ocean and it is unfortunate that his country has been made the “punching bag” for Hambantota, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said, weeks after India and China clashed over the docking of a high-tech Chinese ship at the country’s southern port.
Sri Lanka certainly does not want the problems of the Pacific coming to the Indian Ocean, he said while speaking on the crisis-hit country’s position on the geo-political stage.
“We don’t participate in a military alliance, and we certainly do not want the problems of the Pacific coming to the Indian Ocean. We don’t want this to be an area of conflict and an area of war. Sri Lanka will not take part in any big power rivalry,” said Wickremesinghe on Wednesday while addressing the graduation ceremony of the National Defense College.
His remarks came weeks after the Chinese embassy and the Indian High Commission here clashed verbally over the docking of the Chinese ship ‘Yuan Wang 5’ at Sri Lanka’s southern Hambantota port for replenishment.
Wickremesinghe said that the “geopolitics of the Indian Ocean has unfortunately made Sri Lanka the punching bag for Hambantota.”
“It is not a military port. Though ours is a commercial port it shows our strategic importance that many people come to conclusions which are unwarranted,” Wickremesinghe said, in his second public comment on the issue in recent weeks.
On August 30, President Wickremesinghe appealed to all political parties to join an all-party government to tackle the island nation’s worst-ever economic crisis and prevent “strong economies” from using it as a “tool of interference.”
“We can no longer be a nation dependent on loan assistance. We can also no longer be used as a tool of interference by other countries with strong economies,” Wickremesinghe said without naming any country.
In his address on Wednesday, Wickremesinghe also said that Sri Lanka would stay out of any big power rivalry, adding that the country must ensure the rivalry does not lead to conflict in the Indian Ocean.
“That is one thing we cannot afford,” News First, an online portal, quoted Wickremesinghe as saying.
Sri Lanka granted the port access to the Chinese vessel from August 16 to 22.
There were apprehensions in New Delhi about the possibility of the Chinese vessel’s tracking systems attempting to snoop on Indian defence installations while being on its way to the Sri Lankan port.
India last month hit back at China for alleging that it was “interfering” in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs, firmly telling Beijing that what Colombo needs now was “support, not unwanted pressure or unnecessary controversies” to serve another country’s agenda.
In his address, Wickremesinghe also said that “if we lose a good security system, our future will be destroyed and the world situation and geopolitics will turn very badly.”
Pointing out that it is not good for the country, the President also said that as a country, 2030 has been focused on security.
He explained that Sri Lanka can be used by terrorist groups to launch an attack against a third party and preventing such terrorist attacks will be a major challenge that Sri Lanka will have to face in the future.
He also emphasised that plans should be made to open the Indian Ocean region to the world, ensuring its security and creating a powerful Asia.
President also pointed out that efforts should be made to make Sri Lanka a center of maritime commerce by affirming freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean region. (PTI)