Japan, Sri Lanka to beef up maritime security alliance

Japan plans to strengthen its maritime security alliance with Sri Lanka to curb China’s growing influence on countries with Indian Ocean coastlines, The Asahi Shimbun reported today.
A joint statement on maritime security cooperation will be issued after a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on March 14, sources said.
The Japanese newspaper report said that China, which replaced Japan as the largest aid provider to Sri Lanka in 2009, has been helping with construction of a number of port facilities in countries around India in a strategy known as the “String of Pearls.”
A government source said tightening ties with Sri Lanka is “a step toward driving a wedge into the String of Pearls.”
In the planned joint statement, Japan and Sri Lanka will confirm “the importance of the rule of law based on the principles of international laws, such as the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea,” according to the sources.
Specifically, the statement will refer to the expansion of cooperation between Sri Lanka’s maritime security authorities and the Japan Coast Guard and between the Sri Lankan Navy and Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force, respectively.
Sri Lanka is located in a strategic position along sea lanes in the Indian Ocean.
One possible component of the String of Pearls is a large port facility under construction with Chinese investment in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota, near where Rajapaksa was born.
A senior Foreign Ministry official expressed concerns about the facility, saying, “It could be converted into a military port for China’s navy.”
China has also been expanding its influence elsewhere in the region through economic assistance. It has supported construction of port facilities in Gwadar in Pakistan and Chittagong in Bangladesh.
India has also been alarmed by the String of Pearls, which surrounds the largest South Asian country.