Indo-Pacific: US, Lanka to work together for peace, security in Indo-Pacific region


WASHINGTON: The US and Sri Lanka have resolved to work together to ensure a safe maritime domain in the Indian and Pacific oceans through a rules-based order that ensures respect for international laws and norms, amid the increasing Chinese influence over the strategically important region.

The US and Sri Lanka’s joint statement came a day after US Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale and visiting Sri Lankan Foreign Affairs Minister Tilak Marapana held third US-Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue in the American capital.

“The United States and Sri Lanka resolved to work together to foster peace and security and ensure a safe maritime domain in the Indian and Pacific Oceans through a rules-based order that ensures respect for international laws and norms,” the joint statement said.

In this context, the US strategy towards a free, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region, which ensures freedom of navigation, overflight, and unimpeded commerce was acknowledged as an important initiative, the joint statement said.

“They shared the intention to further promote cooperation and exchanges in maritime security and safety, and noted with satisfaction the Indian Ocean conference hosted by Sri Lanka in October 2018, and agreed to continue to pursue joint initiatives to enhance security, stability, transparency, and economic opportunity for mutual benefit,” the statement said.

The Indo-Pacific is a biogeographic region, comprising the Indian Ocean and the western and central Pacific Ocean, including the South China Sea.

The US has conducted a series of “freedom of navigation” exercises in the disputed South China Sea, triggering protests from Beijing over what it says is infringement of sovereignty. China claims almost the entire South China Sea, while Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan are also claimants.

The growing presence of the Chinese navy in the Indian Ocean where it already acquired a logistic base at Djibouti has aroused concerns in India besides acquisition of the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka on a 99-year lease.

In December 2017, Sri Lanka handed over control of the newly-built Hambantota seaport to Beijing with a 99-year lease because Sri Lanka could no longer afford its debt payments to China.

During the meeting, the United States reiterated President Donald Trump’s statement that America stands with Sri Lanka against terrorism and supports Sri Lanka’s counter-terrorism efforts following the horrific Easter Sunday terrorist attacks of April 21 that claimed nearly 260 lives.

Sri Lanka expressed appreciation for US support, including multi-faceted assistance from the US Embassy in Colombo and investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“The two sides discussed possible areas of future assistance as well. The terrorists who struck Sri Lanka on Easter appear to have drawn inspiration from ISIS. In this context, Sri Lanka was briefed about the global coalition to defeat ISIS. The United States offered to continue to expand counter-terrorism and maritime and border security cooperation with Sri Lanka,” it said.

The two governments welcomed the ongoing bilateral security sector cooperation, including US support for demining, joint military engagements, Sri Lanka’s peacekeeping operations, human rights training for Sri Lankan officers, and visits by US ships and military officials.

According to the joint statement, the US and Sri Lanka agreed to expand military-to-military cooperation.

Welcoming the renewal of Sri Lanka’s commitment to promote reconciliation, accountability, justice, and human rights in pursuit of lasting peace and prosperity, the US acknowledged progress in these areas, including on the mandate of the Office of Missing Persons, passage of legislation to establish an Office of Reparations, and the return of private land used by security forces.

The US and Sri Lanka expressed support for strong economic partnership and growing bilateral trade based on the principles of fairness and reciprocity.

The two governments welcomed the approval of a USD 480-million compact by the Millennium Challenge Corporation Board. Signature of the compact is pending Congressional approval in the United States and Cabinet approval in Sri Lanka.

A day earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in his meeting with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister condemned the attacks that Sri Lanka suffered last month, which also killed five Americans.

Marapana noted appreciation for the US support in the aftermath of the bombings and conveyed Sri Lanka’s interest in deepening cooperation to prevent future attacks.

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