Sri Lanka (Commonwealth Union)_ Factum Sri Lanka, a think-tank on foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region, teamed up with the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS) and the Baani Centre for International Policy, Maldives, to host a Trilateral Dialogue on Maritime Cooperation in the Indian Ocean. The dialogue took place in Colombo against the backdrop of the Indian Ocean and discussed how small, island, and littoral states in South Asia could collaborate in maritime infrastructure, maritime disasters, climate resilience, economy, and trade. The context of the dialogue was the ocean of the 21st century’s big power contestations.
The panel discussion, presided over by Ambassador Pamela Jayasekera Deen; the President of BIPSS, Major General Muniruzzaman; Rear Admiral (Retd) Y. N. Jayarathna; and Co-Founder of The Baani Centre, Thoriq Hamid, explored various issues. Major General Muniruzzaman pointed out the absence of a maritime security architecture in the region. He added, “The Indian Ocean region is a center of gravity in international politics. 70% of energy resources and 80% of global oil supplies are transported through the Indian Ocean’’.
Rear Admiral (Retd) Y. N. Jayarathna stressed the need to improve maritime security infrastructure and surveillance. He also noted that marine spatial planning should be strengthened and added that tracking systems have improved significantly in Sri Lanka over the last five years. According to Thoriq Hamid, the Maldives was particularly concerned about potential oil spills, illegal fishing, drug trafficking, terrorism, and climate threats. He added, “Climate threats for a country like the Maldives, which is home to 99% ocean and 1% land, is something we cannot afford not to worry about’’.
The attendees of the dialogue included defense officials, diplomats, foreign policy analysts, academics, members of civil society, and youth. They encouraged transforming the Indian Ocean into a zone of peace and denuclearization. Further, the dialogue, which resulted in a six-point declaration, also saw the signing of a Trilateral Memorandum of Understanding by Factum, BIPSS, and Baani. The MoU aims to continue thematic cooperation and pursue mutually beneficial measures for Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the Maldives.
Overall, the Trilateral Dialogue on Maritime Cooperation in the Indian Ocean provided a platform to discuss critical issues related to maritime security and collaboration in the South Asian region. The dialogue highlighted the need for cooperation in various areas such as climate resilience, economy and trade, and maritime infrastructure. It also emphasized the significance of transforming the Indian Ocean into a zone of peace and denuclearization.