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Sri Lanka successfully launches a platform to define the future of the Indian Ocean

Published Oct 15, 2018
Updated Jun 29, 2020

Representatives of 40 countries were in Sri Lanka from 11-12 October 2018 to discuss the future of the Indian Ocean.

“The Indian Ocean: Defining Our Future” , Track 1.5 dialogue brought together senior representatives from the Indian Ocean littoral states and major maritime users to Colombo on an initiative by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, to increase focus on an Ocean that has the potential to become a growth pole in the world economy in the future.

Representatives included, among others, key senior officials from India, South Africa, USA, China, Germany, Netherlands, Singapore, Indonesia and Japan together with key think tank representatives from the region and beyond. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean Ambassador Peter Thomson was also in Colombo for the Conference. President Maithripala Sirisena graced the occasion with his presence.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, delivering the keynote address of the Conference highlighted the need to maintain Freedom of Navigation and Freedom of Digital Connectivity for the region to grow and prosper and the need for a shared understanding in order to maintain peace and security.

This Conference provided an inclusive space for discussion and consensus building for littorals and users of the Indian Ocean. It explored four particular areas including the Indian Ocean’s future as the new global growth pole, safety and security at sea, sustainable and low-pollution development, and stability of the Indian Ocean within a rules-based approach.

At the conclusion of this Track 1.5 dialogue, State Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs Dr. Harsha de Silva, Chairman of the Task Force that organized this Conference, summarized the general view that emerged from the Conference:

-The Indian Ocean economy is rapidly becoming a global growth pole in an uncertain world beset by economic risks;
-The region’s economic expansion needs to be inclusive, broad- based and environmentally sustainable so that we leave a meaningful legacy for future generations;
-Strategic mistrust and non-traditional security threats (such as maritime crime, over-fishing, pollutiofy;”>The minister said the UAE delegation “positively” noted the Pakistani request and promised to return with options in the next few days.

“It is expected to be a good package. I am unable to share the figures, but I think it would more or less be similar to the one Saudi Arabia has announced [for Pakistan],” said Sharif, who accompanied Khan during his visit to Saudi Arabia and will be part of the Pakistani delegation traveling to China.

IMF bailout plan

In addition to pushing friendly countries to provide fiscal relief, Khan’s government has also turned to the International Monetary Fund to seek a bailout package. Formal talks are scheduled to begin in Islamabad on Nov. 7. Pakistan has taken advantage of repeated IMF bailouts in the past several decades.

Analysts say the Saudi financial package and expected aid from both China and the UAE will most likely boost Pakistan’s negotiating position and may mean the country will require a smaller IMF arrangement.

During Khan’s visit to Beijing, officials said the two countries would sign “many agreements” to boost trade and investment ties and launch the second phase of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is the flagship of Xi’s global Road and Belt Initiative.

The two sides will sign a framework for launching industrial cooperation under CPEC and increasing Pakistani exports to China.

CPEC, Khan’s visit to China

The United States has persistently expressed concerns about the Chinese infrastructure and connectivity initiative, saying they are burdening partner nations like Pakistan with debt. The U.S. also criticized a lack of transparency about the terms of contracts under the infrastructure initiative and consequent effects on the economy, said Henry Ensher, acting deputy assistant secretary of state.

He acknowledged in a speech in Washington this month the importance of China-led initiative. “But that role ought to be done, ought to be played in accordance with usual rules about the transparency and accountability so that people in countries that cooperate with China can see clearly what they are signing up for,” Ensher said.

U.S. officials have already cautioned the IMF about entering into an arrangement with Pakistan, citing CPEC loans as a main factor for the country’s debt crisis and suspecting the IMF money would be used to pay back China.

Islamabad and Beijing have vehemently rejected Washington’s assertions as “misplaced” and “irrelevant.” Both countries acknowledge Chinese loans under CPEC are just over 6 percent of Pakistan’s total domestic and external debts of about $95 billion.

Since launching CPEC in 2013, China has invested $19 billion in Pakistan, building or upgrading its transportation network and power plants and putting into operation the key Arabian Sea port of Gwadar.

The mega-project is expected to bring more than $62 billion to Pakistan in Chinese investment by 2030, ultimately linking Gwadar to the landlocked western Chinese region of Xinjiang and giving Beijing the shortest secure access to international markets.

“We are building these projects totally based on mutual consultation and also mutual sharing. … Definitely, there is no private interest or unilateral interest from the Chinese side. We believe all the projects are mutually beneficial,” Yao Jing, Beijing’s ambassador to Islamabad, told reporters at the sprawling Chinese Embassy on Friday.

First Published by VOA News