Japan, Sri Lanka Prime Ministers vow further cooperation on maritime security
TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Sri Lankan counterpart Ranil Wickremesinghe agreed Wednesday to further advance their cooperation in maritime security.
According to a joint statement released after their talks in Tokyo, the leaders emphasized the "special importance of maintaining a maritime order based on the rule of law, including the freedom of navigation and overflight and unobstructed trade."
The agreement reflects Sri Lanka's location near shipping routes on which Japan relies for its oil imports from the Middle East, as well as Japan's concerns over China's expansionary activities in the Indian Ocean and the East and South China seas.
"Without a free and open Indian Ocean, there cannot be real prosperity in the region," Abe said at a joint press event after the talks.
"This is why it is essential for Sri Lanka to achieve sustainable growth as a hub, and develop ports that are open to everyone, something Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and I completely agreed on today."
The Sri Lankan leader expressed his support for Abe's approach, saying there "should not be any imbalances in the Indian Ocean."
On the South China Sea, the leaders agreed on "the importance of the freedom of navigation and overflight, self-restraint, non-militarization and the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea."
That language effectively cautions China over its overlapping territorial claims with neighbors and offshore development efforts.
The current Sri Lankan government, which came to power in January 2015, has taken a foreign policy stance seeking to balance the country's relationships with China and other countries in the region, in contrast with the previous administration's strong alignment with Beijing.
Abe announced at the meeting Japan's provision of 45 billion yen ($410 million) in yen loans for infrastructure projects and 1 billion yen in grant aid to develop the port of Trincomalee in Sri Lanka's northeast.
Japan is also in the process of providing Sri Lanka with two patrol vessels to improve its maritime security capability.
Wickremesinghe's six-day visit to Japan, ending Sunday, is his second trip to the country since he was appointed prime minister in January 2015 by President Maithripala Sirisena.
Earlier Wednesday, Wickremesinghe also held separate meetings with Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and Finance Minister Taro Aso.