Articles and Commentaries |
July 3, 2023

Indian Ocean Regionalism: A Sri Lankan Perspective

Written By: Nimal Siripala de Silva

As we all know, the Indian Ocean is distinct to define the future of the world and Sri Lanka located in the center of the Indian Ocean is well poised to play a significant role of cooperation. Peace, prosperity and partnership in the Indian Ocean is in our mutual interest. This region has enormous economic potential and is the lifeline of global trade. The Indian Ocean region has always been a significant place of interest for all the countries. And today in the emerging multipolar world where Asia has become a major economic power, managing competition and strengthening cooperation is essential to the peaceful development of the region.

The countries in the Indian Ocean region have historically played a significant role in the global trade and commerce and having given rise to some of the great civilizations of the world. Sri Lanka has reiterated time and again that it is time for the Indian Ocean countries to take role determining their own future. Sri Lanka will be taking over the Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association later this year which gives us an opportunity to protect our common interest.

The Indian Ocean is a vital conduit for international trade and it is home to vast reserves of natural resources. It is imperative to ensure that the Indian Ocean sustain its status as a peaceful and prosperous region where all nations can equitably benefit from its abundant resources in a sustainable manner. Therefore, we must commit ourselves to ensure the rights and responsibilities of all states for sustainable use of the ocean. Many countries remain independent on energy supplies and traded goods that are carried across the region.

Those who are geographically located in the region have a primary interest in the security of the ocean which is more often than not linked to their economies and livelihood of their people. It is worth noting that the countries located along the shores of this great ocean, are among the most densely populated region on Earth. The nations of the region have emerged as some of the world’s fastest growing nations and continue to make remarkable progress in various sectors. Sri Lanka notes the recent entry into the force of the ASEAN led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership RCEP and considers that this could serve as a catalyst for economic integration in Asia. Furthermore, the ongoing discussions between ADB, AIIB and BRICS on building synergies for growth is an important development.

Business in the region must grow for the region to develop its economic strength. Business require capital for expansion, this is why Sri Lanka has consistently urged for the incorporation of an Indian Ocean Development Fund for the development of the region and in particular establishing a strong humanitarian assistance and disaster management mechanism to deal with the natural and man-made disasters. Sri Lanka also believes that there is a significant need for enhanced Indian Ocean regionalism and focuses on augmenting cooperation across the maritime domain. Such regionalism should strive to create a closer linkage between ASEAN, IORA and BIMSTEC.

The Indian Ocean plays a pivotal role in the world economy and global growth. Our collaborative efforts will fully harness the immense potential of the region and further strengthen the bonds of cooperation and friendship among us. Sri Lanka’s historical and cultural significance as a central hub for the connectivity in the Indian Ocean cannot be overstated. Our strong partnership with the Indian Ocean Rim countries has enabled us to play an important role in the region’s multilateral engagements. Sri Lanka is committed to further strengthening these partnerships and engaging with regional community to promote peace, prosperity, and development in the region, particularly as we take up the chair of the IORA later this year. It is important to note the need for vigilance regarding the security of the Indian Ocean.

As littoral nations, we have a shared responsibility to ensure the safety and security of the Indian Ocean. The maintenance of peace and harmony in the region is of paramount importance to all the countries around the ocean. As per recent report from the World Bank, the Economic outlook for South Asia is shaped by the combination of positive and negative factors. The lower commodity prices, robust recovery in the service sector and improved supply chain stability are aiding the region’s growth. Rising interest rates and financial market uncertainties are exerting downward pressure on the region’s economy.

Sri Lanka is keen to engage with all littoral states and foster trade with all our partners to further enhance the economic activity in the Indian Ocean region. The emergence of blue and green economy offers a unique opportunity to address complex and interconnected economic challenges, perhaps climate resilient green economic policies could bring economic growth and prosperity to the Indian Ocean region with sustainable growth which is the new focus of the global policy discourse. Countries have embarked upon the development of more integrated ocean governance framework which will help avoid or at least limit intersectoral conflicts. At the outset and to highlight any trans boundary implications of coastal ocean development, countries seeking to develop their blue economies, acknowledge the need for the policies that better align future economic growth in their seats with maintaining or even restoring ocean health.

Sri Lanka already made significant progress in terms of the development of a national blue green economy initiative. Being a climate vulnerable country, Sri Lanka has seized the opportunity for sustainable economic growth through climate resilience. With the vision of the change and development, despite the climate insecure environment we are facing, we have focused on climate smart development through renewables. Therefore, it is vital to shift the renewable energy sector to address the current critical economic crisis, to alleviate poverty with the view to bring about prosperity in the nation and the world. As we are aware, climate change contributes to have profound impact on the Indian Ocean region, with adverse consequences for our environment communities and economies.

In order to address the challenges posed by climate change, it is imperative that we build appropriate capacity in the region. During COP-27, His Excellency Ranil Wickremesinghe, the President of Sri Lanka, announced his intention to establish an international climate change university in Sri Lanka. The innovative initiative will support green and blue studies and serve as a platform for research and policy advocacy related to climate change in the region. We believe that establishment of this university will be a valuable contribution to the regional and global effort to combat climate change. And we call upon support and cooperation of our regional partners in making this vision a reality. We look forward to working together to build a more sustainable and resilient future for the Indian Ocean region. We firmly believe that the working together towards these common goals, we can achieve sustainable peace and prosperity in our region. We are optimistic that through collaborative efforts we can create an environment conducive to economic growth, innovation, and progress for all the nations in the Indian Ocean region.

We all should look together, work together with other major maritime nations beyond the region and with the multilateral institutions to promote the economic prosperity and harmony in the Indian Ocean. Therefore, I urge all of us to come together and build and share vision of cooperation and promote economic growth, security, and stability in the Indian Ocean. By working towards these common goals, we can create a brighter future for ourselves and for generations to come. Let us continue to engage in productive and collaborative discussions and explore new avenues for cooperation and partnership. Together we can build a strong and more prosperous Indian Ocean region.

Author Brief Bio: Mr. Nimal Siripala de Silva is the Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation, Government of Sri Lanka.

Note: This article is based on the Text of the Speech delivered by Mr. Nimal Siripala de Silva, Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation, Government of Sri Lanka, at the 6th Indian Ocean Conference 2023 in Dhaka on 13 May 2023.

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