Following are the remarks by Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary Prasad Kariyawasam at the Panel on Peace in the Indian Ocean Region Indian Ocean Conference 2017
on 1 September
First and foremost, I want to congratulate Shri Ram Madhav and the India Foundation, the Bangladesh Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies, and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies of Singapore for organising this important conference in Colombo and for bringing all of you here to our island home.
You have brought together important policymakers, strategic thinkers, political leaders and academics from across the region here to Colombo for this important conference on a subject that will have a determining impact on the future, not only of this region, but the world at large. In fact, having been the High Commissioner for Sri Lanka to India recently for a little over four years, I am very happy to welcome and meet again, some of the best minds in India who are here to join us in these deliberations.
Yesterday evening, at the inauguration, among other important dignitaries, we had the privilege of hearing from the Minister of External Affairs of India, the Foreign Minister of Singapore, the Vice President of Seychelles and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, of their vision for a peaceful, prosperous, and stable Indian Ocean Region.
‘Peace and stability’ in the Indian Ocean is essential for the development and progress of the Indian Ocean region, and the world at large; and this important subject of ‘peace’ is the focus of this Plenary Session. As you know, nothing happens in isolation in the globalised world. Anything that happens in this region will have its impact on countries and peoples living far beyond this region. This, we all know to be true.
The Indian Ocean is the world’s third largest body of water. Dominated by two immense bays – the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, this region encompasses such a vast diversity of cultures, peoples, religions, ethnicities, languages, and political systems.
This great Indian Ocean was the holder of mysteries and the keeper of secrets for our ancestors, as it still does for us in many ways. This Indian Ocean united people and cultures that lived oceans apart, as the fearless sea-farers of the ancient world traversed the Indian Ocean from Arabia, right across to China, sharing their ideas and philosophies, faiths, and knowledge with people in distant lands, while trading and engaging in sea-based commerce.
This ocean has brought fame and fortune, tears and grief, conflict and peace, progress and prosperity, to people in the Indian Ocean nations at different times in history. The story of the Indian Ocean continues, and it is now our turn to write its next chapter and chart its course.
Our destiny is in our hands. What will we choose to do? It is our strong belief that we must choose Peace, sincerely, genuinely, and wholeheartedly. We must choose friendship, cooperation, and mutual benefit, shunning adversarial competition and conflict. We must take steps without delay, in the interest of all our people, to put in place a strong, transparent, inter-dependent and rules-based architecture that can secure for our people, the peace and prosperity that will benefit all.
I see no other means to lift the millions that live in our countries out of poverty and conflict, for meaningful prosperity.
The Indian Ocean Peace poses many challenges as well as opportunities in the present day. The ocean keeps the networks of trading alive, providing livelihood and delivering prosperity to our people. At the same time, it also keeps the networks of terrorism, piracy, drug smuggling, and human trafficking, alive, which requires constant vigilance and action through cooperation, in our common interest.
Our desire is for a system in the Indian Ocean where all countries pursue their territorial claims and pursue their aspirations in accordance with international law. A system that sees greater cooperation, including on natural disasters, maritime security, and for keeping the sea lanes open and safe. A system that enhances economic connectivity in the entire Indo-Asia-Pacific, ensuring the transfer of goods and services at faster speeds, greater volumes, and especially at lower costs.
Sri Lanka, located right in the middle of the orient, is ready to work with our partners in the region and beyond for this purpose. We seek an inclusive Indian Ocean that is peaceful, stable, and secure. Our ocean, since time immemorial, not only drew the attention of the rest of the world, but benefitted from its interaction with those living beyond. Exchange of ideas, and goods and services within the region and those from afar, have enriched our lives and continues to do so. Establishing a Peaceful Indian Ocean region, is essential for the long and short-term wellbeing of our region and the billions of people to whom this region is Home. We need to create conditions, processes and procedures for cooperation so that prosperity in the Indian Ocean region will not remain just a dream for our people.
Ninety per cent of the world’s population lives by the sea. As mentioned by many speakers yesterday, the seas remain the primary mode for the international transportation of goods, touching the lives of this large body of people, directly. The Indian Ocean region is no exception. Statistics with regard to sea-borne transport has also been mentioned in this Conference and elsewhere. Therefore, it is evident that sustaining peace and stability in the oceans including in the Indian Ocean is essential for peace and stability in the littoral.
In this context, the proposal by the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, to establish a Code of Conduct in the Indian Ocean, we believe, requires urgent attention. It is a win-win proposal that can create an inclusive architecture. We must think innovatively as to how we can work on this proposal, and the appropriate forum for doing so, with the participation of all stakeholders that live in this region and those connected to this region, from beyond.
I am sure that the discussion to follow will include thoughts and ideas of how we could move forward in this direction.