“Island nations in Indian Ocean Have Different Priorities, Unrelated to Those of Quad or China” - RW 

September 19, 2023

President Ranil Wickremesinghe said Island nations in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific have distinct priorities, unrelated to the Quad (comprising the US, India, Japan, and Australia) or China’s objectives, he said, adding that Sri Lanka is open to collaboration with any partners willing to respect its autonomy.

Wickremesinghe made these remarks while participating in the ‘Ocean Nations: The 3rd Annual Indo-Pacific Islands Dialogue,’ moderated by Dan Baer, Senior Vice President for Policy Research at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and hosted by the Carnegie Endowment and Sasakawa Foundation.

In terms of regional frameworks President Wickremesinghe noted that China’s rise occurred within existing regional frameworks such as APEC and ASEAN, which many nations prefer to maintain. The recent expansion of great power rivalry beyond these frameworks has raised concerns among member nations.

He noted that the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean hold immense strategic value. The South Pacific is a vital hub for the US Navy and the Indian Ocean played a crucial role in World War II. President Wickremesinghe noted, “The South Pacific which includes Hawaii – it is here that the US dominance of the Pacific established in WW2 and Battle of the Coral Sea and Midway as well as the shooting down of Admiral Yamamoto’s plane took place. The importance of the Indian Ocean was best described by Winston Churchill who said the most dangerous moment of war was the capture of Ceylon and consequently the loss of Indian Ocean.”

The Indo-Pacific concept has gained recognition, primarily due to mounting challenges from China, the President said, adding that it has prompted a re-evaluation of regional dynamics and cooperation, such as the Jakarta Concord within the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).

The G7’s attempt to involve European powers and NATO in the Indo-Pacific was met with opposition, with only France expressing interest. This move was seen as violating IORA’s rules-based order, the President pointed out.

The President also noted that the Quad has shifted from a focus on security and dialogue to applying coordinated pressure in the region. While surface warfare threats are minimal in the Indian Ocean, the issue of submarine warfare needs to be addressed within IORA.

In terms of Security Dialogues, the President pointed out that the island nations find security dialogues acceptable but emphasize non-interference in their internal affairs. Many island nations, including Sri Lanka, have not engaged in high-level discussions regarding the Indo-Pacific. Recent developments such as the US opening an embassy in the Maldives were also noted.