- Sri Lanka to become regional logistics hub
- Boost for trade with South India
- Existing facilities not adequate
The feasibility studies for land connectivity between India and Sri Lanka underscore efforts to establish Sri Lanka as a Regional Logistics Hub facilitating trade with South India, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Friday.
President Wickremesinghe was delivering a speech at the seventh Indian Ocean Conference (IOC) in Perth, Australia, focusing on the theme “Towards a Stable and Sustainable Indian Ocean.”
The Indo-Lanka land bridge was proposed a few decades ago and was again brought to the fore during the discussions that took place between President Wickremesinghe and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi a few months ago.
Since then, there have been several indications that both countries are keen to go ahead with the project. Such a bridge will facilitate trade and people-to-people contact.
In his IOC speech, the President highlighted the critical need for enhanced connectivity infrastructure to accommodate the projected eight-fold increase in the GDP of countries such as India and Indonesia by 2050.
The President said that existing channels such as the Suez Canal may not be adequate, necessitating new initiatives. India’s proposed Mumbai-Iran-Russia and Mumbai-Middle East-Europe corridors, along with projects in the Bay of Bengal and the Chongqing-Kyaukphyu corridor, aim to address this demand.
Plans for the Kra land bridge by Thailand and the Indo-Lanka Bridge could also address the infrastructure demands for trade and people’s movement.
President Wickremesinghe recalled the historical significance of Perth in Sri Lanka-Australia relations, particularly during World War II when Royal Canadian Air Force Catalina Flying Boats established a crucial air link between Perth and the Koggala Air Base in Ceylon, facilitating vital communication for the Allies.
Later, Qantas used Colombo as a transit point for its “Double Sunrise” flights from Australia to London, UK. Although Qantas no longer flies to Colombo, it has indicated the possibility of starting Perth-Colombo flights using next-generation long-range aircraft.
The President discussed the multi-polarity of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), shaped by events such as the Bandung Conference in 1955, and the subsequent Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which opposed Big Power rivalry. Incidentally, NAM’s 19th Heads of State Summit took place recently in Kampala, Uganda. The President’s speech outlined various diplomatic frameworks and groupings that have emerged in the IOR, including the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) (of which Sri Lanka is the Chair now), Indo-Pacific, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), QUAD (military alliance comprising Australia, US, Japan and India) and an expanding BRICS, along with increased militarisation by several countries, leading to a complex geopolitical landscape.
President Wickremesinghe cited the growing strategic importance of the Western Indian Ocean, particularly in light of geopolitical shifts and the influence of major powers such as Russia, China, and Iran.
He addressed challenges such as attacks on commercial vessels by Houthi rebels, piracy, and threats to Freedom of Navigation (FON), emphasising the need for collective action to address these issues.
He said it was important to address the climate crisis, in the context of the Indian Ocean’s vulnerability to Global Warming and rising sea levels. He proposed initiatives such as the Tropical Belt Initiative (TBI) and the International Climate Change University (ICCU) to mitigate the effects of Climate Change and ensure Climate Justice for vulnerable countries.
He called for unity among IOR countries to address shared challenges and create a safer, more sustainable ocean environment. Sri Lanka held the second edition of the event in 2017.
The event aims to foster cooperation among 40 participating nations. The conference was organised by the India Foundation in collaboration with India’s Ministry of External Affairs and the Australian Government, along with support from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore, and Perth-US Asia Centre.