U.S. supports Sri Lanka’s vision to become a regional hub for logistics and commerce
The United States Department of Defense (DoD) says it supports Sri Lanka’s vision to become a regional hub for logistics and commerce. The Department Of Defense outlining its strategy to ensure the peace and security in the dynamic and rapidly growing Indo-Pacific region notes its strategy to broaden its partnership with Sri Lanka. According to the recent Indo-Pacific Strategy Report: Preparedness, Partnerships, and Promoting a Networked Region, since 2015, the DoD has strengthened its relationship with Sri Lanka and increased military engagements significantly, particularly with the Sri Lankan Navy. The DoD says within South Asia, the U.S. is working to operationalize its Major Defense Partnership with India, while pursuing emerging partnerships with Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
The DoD highlights that while the Indian Ocean Region is at the nexus of global trade and commerce, with nearly half of the world’s 90,000 commercial vessels and two thirds of global oil trade traveling through its sea lanes, and offers unprecedented opportunity, the region is also confronting a myriad of security challenges, including terrorism, transnational crime, trafficking-in-persons, and illicit drugs. To combat these challenges, the United States seeks opportunities to broaden and strengthen partnerships with India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bangladesh, and Nepal to respond to shared regional challenges. In preparations for these challenges in the Indian Ocean, in 2017, the U.S. has conducted the first port visit in 30 years by a U.S. aircraft carrier – the USS NIMITZ Carrier Strike Group – and the first ever bilateral Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Exercise.
In 2019, the DOD has increased cooperation on mutual logistics arrangements in support of Indian Ocean security and disaster response. The DOD report notes that Sri Lanka, whose strategic location in the Indian Ocean through which 70 percent of maritime traffic passes, has outlined a vision to become a regional hub for logistics and commerce. Supporting this vision, the U.S. Navy recently initiated a series of temporary cargo transfer initiatives enabling non-lethal re-supply of passing naval vessels in Sri Lanka. “These engagements serve as proof of principle for a range of initiatives that would benefit regional connectivity and security, including support to HA/DR (Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Reponses),” the report said. The DoD report also charging China of using “economic inducements and penalties, influence operations, and implied military threats to persuade other states to comply with its agenda,” says China’s “one-sided and opaque” deals are inconsistent with the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific, and are causing concern in the region.
Highlighting China’s deals with the South Asian countries, the DoD report noted that, a Chinese state-owned enterprise purchased operational control of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port for 99 years, taking advantage of island nation’s need for cash when the government faced daunting external debt repayment obligations. The reports also notes that amid the challenges, the United States is encouraged by positive indicators within South and Southeast Asia that democratic institutions are on an upward trajectory and steadily improving transparency, responsibility, and democratic values. The report points out that Sri Lanka is on a positive trajectory and after 25 years of conflict, the Sri Lankan Government has transitioned to a constitutional, multiparty republic with a freely elected President and Parliament. The DoD recalled that Sri Lanka’s political system was challenged with a constitutional dispute in late 2018. Ultimately, however, all parties respected the Supreme Court ruling that returned democratic processes and norms, and the military remained uninvolved throughout the dispute. The DoD said the U.S. will continue to ensure that the rule of law – not coercion and force – dictates the future of the Indo Pacific. “We will build on our successes to ensure that this region remains peaceful, prosperous, and secure for decades to come.”
Importantly, visiting United States Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, R Clarke Cooper Monday met with Sri Lanka’s State Minister of Defense, Ruwan Wijewardene at the Ministry of Defense in Colombo. U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Alaina B. Teplitz and embassy officials accompanied the Assistant Secretary Cooper. During the meeting, the State Minister and Assistant Secretary of State discussed matters of bilateral importance and mutual relevance, the Ministry of Defense said. During his visit Assistant Secretary Cooper will meet with government officials and think tank experts to discuss security, peacekeeping, clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance, counterterrorism, and other areas of mutual interest.