Underscoring the importance of keeping big power rivalries and external conflicts out of the Indian Ocean, National Security Advisor and President's Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayaka said that Sri Lanka aims to maintain a conflict-free Indian Ocean.
Noting that the Indian Ocean has transformed from a mere maritime trade passage to a major global nexus of security, strategic, economic, environmental and social issues, he said that this transformation has led to the increased presence and competition among major external powers in the region.
He recalled Sri Lanka’s neutral position, dating back to the United Nations General Assembly’s declaration in 1971, and proposed that existing regional frameworks and initiatives, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) outlook on the Indo-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), could serve as models for cooperation in the region.
NSA Ratnayaka made these observations addressing the Colombo Air Symposium-2023 (CAS), an annual international academic forum organized by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF).
Emphasizing the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean and its relevance to global powers, particularly the rivalry between the United States and China, he stressed the need for stability in the Indian Ocean, considering its paramount importance for India’s security environment and the United States' support for India’s role as a net security provider.
He called for effective regional defence cooperation, highlighting the importance of a constructive dialogue among all stakeholders in the Indian Ocean region.
He also noted the positive development of increased interest from European and Middle Eastern nations in the Indian Ocean but cautioned against escalating tensions among regional powers.
To ensure stability in the region, he suggested upholding lines of communication, adhering to multilaterally agreed rules based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea while utilizing multilateral and bilateral frameworks.
He emphasized the challenge of moving from aspirations to effective action due to the absence of a region-wide security architecture and common regional identity.