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'Lanka can be key player in Maritime Silk Route'

Sri Lanka can be a key player in the Maritime Silk Route as it enjoys a strategically important geographical location in the Indian Ocean, Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute, Executive Director Asanga Abeygoonasekera told the first international seminar on South Asia Development organised by Xinhua News Agency, Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau in Hong Kong recently.

He said trade, combating terrorism and piracy and confidence-building and cooperation are vital to boost development in the region.

Excerpts of Abeygoonasekera's speech.

The Maritime Silk Route (MSR) is a sleeping giant which will wake up and connect three continents Asia, Europe and Africa through trade and culture.

Economic growth during the past decade in South Asia and China with its 2.8 billion population is significant. Trade between China and South Asia increased from $35 billion in 2006 to $100 billion in 2013.

The 'Silk route', a centuries-old concept, is being revived with the Chinese leaders' emphasis on revival of the ancient Silk route via a 'new Silk Route economic belt' and 'the Maritime Silk Route'.

Sri Lanka, having elevated its relationship with China into a 'strategic partnership' during the visit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to China in May 2013, pledged its support to the proposed Maritime Silk Route.

Sri Lanka is the first country to back China's initiative in setting up the 21st century Maritime Silk Route.

The 'Silk Route' concept fascinates us as a historic route of economic and cultural exchange. It embodies the spirit of peace, cooperation, openness, inclusiveness, mutual learning and hard work. Having been part of the ancient Silk Route and being in a strategic location on the maritime route, Sri Lanka can play a central role.

The strategic position of the island in the Indian Ocean made it a hub for ancient trade. Sri Lanka was one of the major ports in the Indian Ocean.

It had been one of the prominent places of bartering goods and the main entry port of the East to West sea route of the Indian Ocean.

Our maritime heritage holds a lesson of peaceful cooperation in trade and cultural exchanges. Sri Lanka's natural harbours were connected to inland rivers and facilitated trade and transport. As a result, some of the ports became internationally famous ports even back then.

Archaeological evidence proves that the China and Sri Lanka had trade relations during the time of the ancient Silk Route.

Chinese ceramic remains, coins and Chinese inscriptions found in some of the ancient ports provide valuable information and acceptable proof that there had been trade relations between Sri Lanka and China beyond the Christian era. Sri Lanka's support for China's Maritime Silk Route does not come as a surprise for several reasons.

Apart from its historical ties, China and Sri Lanka have continued to be steadfast friends ever since the island gained independence from colonial rule.

The two countries have stood for each other at difficult times. Sri Lanka was one of the first non-Communist countries to recognise Communist China and supported China's entry to the United Nations. China has always been supportive of Sri Lanka's decisions and has always respected the island's sovereignty. When Sri Lanka was criticised after crushing terrorism, for alleged human rights violations, and when some of the Sri Lanka's long-term donors pulled out without supporting post-terrorism rebuilding, it was China which came to Sri Lanka's rescue.

Today, China is Sri Lanka's largest donor, providing financial and technical support for development of infrastructure, trade and commerce.

 

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