‘Silk Road initiative will have cooperative impact’


The Senior Minister for International Monetary Co-operation and the Deputy Minister of Finance & Planning, Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Head of the Sri Lanka delegation addresses the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) The Silk Road held in Lanzhou city in China. With him is Deputy Minister Githanjana Gunawardena and Sri Lanka ambassador Ranjith Uyangoda.

Statement by Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Senior Minister for International Monetary Co-operation and Deputy Minister of Finance & Planning at the Asia Cooperation Dialogue Forum on Silk Road Cooperation,
May, 28.

I wish to thank the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the People’s Government of Gansu Province for the warm hospitality extended to me and my delegation. Gansu Province and its capital Lanzhou City which is the venue of this Forum are best suited to host this event due to the historical link between them and the ancient Silk Road which ran through Lanzhou City. Sri Lanka, as a country which treasures its Buddhist heritage, acknowledges the role of the ancient silk road in carrying the message of the Buddha in Northern Asia, China, Korea and Japan. It was on this road that Chinese Buddhist monks of the Tang period Fa Hien and Hsu Tsang journeyed to India and Sri Lanka. Their writings helped in locating ancient Buddhist sites in the sub-continent including Bodhgaya where the Buddha achieved enlightment.

This event is being held a week after the successful conclusion of the fourth Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), hosted by China. The Summit was an important multinational forum in achieving enhanced cooperation and promoting peace, security and stability in Asia which was attended by many distinguished world leaders including His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President of Sri Lanka.

I believe that China in taking over of the CICA Presidency will inject fresh vitality into the regional mechanism and help the Asian region address issues of common concern, such as peace and development in a practical manner.

Sri Lanka is honoured to be part of todays important initiative on Silk Road Cooperation. Actually, there are two Silk routes. One is the Northern route accross the Gobi desert. The other is the Southern Maritime route in which Sri Lanka is the midpoint between the Ports of the West and those of the East. Admiral Chen Ho and his ships visited the Port of Colombo several centuries ago.

We are proud of Asia’s rich and multi-faceted heritage encompassing all parts of the continent, and stretching back many centuries to the time of the Silk Road and beyond. Asia possesses enormous potential and the inner strength necessary to build a world of peace and prosperity. In the present day, Asian culture is admired throughout the world. In the past, the Silk Route not only physically linked Asia together, but also helped to promote understanding and cooperation among us. The 21st century is thus the time to reconnect our past with the present by renewing age old links. We were linked in the past, through the legendary Silk Routes of land and sea. We now look to reinforce those links to make our bonds stronger.

I believe that China’s New Silk Road initiative will strengthen relations through land and sea connections between China, Central Asia and Europe and build a network for mutual benefit. Aligning to the vision ‘Mahinda Chintana’ policy framework to transform Sri Lanka into a strategically important economic center, the Government of Sri Lanka proposes to make structural reforms of the economy for sustainable development. One of the key objectives in this regard is to transform Sri Lanka into an attractive naval hub. Based on our history, we will endeavour to convert Sri Lanka into a maritime hub along the Asian Silk Route. Our new Hambantota Port is located within 10 nautical miles from the world’s biggest shipping lane. Around 70,000 to 80,000 vessels annually, or around 200 vessels daily, sail past Hambantota. Additionally, we have built a new Airport and new city so that this area will be a major Silk Route destination.

Sri Lanka considers it of great importance to intensify regional and inter-regional cooperation in Asia, Africa and Oceanic countries. In this context, ACD is a reflection of a wide cooperative framework that has brought together more than half of humanity, close to four billion people or 60 percent of world’s current population. There has been substantial progress both in interactions and project dimensions since the launching of ACD in 2002; its membership has grown remarkably from 18 to 33. The establishment of a Provisional Secretariat during the first ACE Summit held in Kuwait in 2012 is a reflection of the success of ACE.

ACD encompasses virtually the whole of Asia, from the East to the West. In terms of projects, the ACD carries out work in 20 diverse areas that have been volutarily taken on by Member States such as energy & food security, poverty alleviation, agriculture, tourism, science & technology, regional connectivity etc. Therefore, ACD is well placed to serve as a link in Asia-wide cooperation as the Member States could take initiatives and pool their resources for the benefit of their own people, regions and ultimately to the continent as a whole.

While maintaining robust economic growth, Asia, is confronted with increasingly severe constraints and challenges in the areas of environment, energy, food; achieving sustainable development has become a top priority for Asian countries. Therefore, the objective of this Forum, such as exploring the role of ACD in promoting connectivity and cooperation in energy, environmental protection and cultural tourism along the Silk Road, and ways and means of practical cooperation to promote progress in those fields is highly relevant. The discussions of this Forum are important for enhancing sustainable development in Asia.

To achieve the goals of regional connectivity in Asia, the ACD should in our view strengthen cooperation in several areas. First, we should cooperate in promoting infrastructure and institutional connectivity which will effectively promote people to people to contact, tourism, trade and economic growth. It would be important to find ways and means to increase investments and speed up construction of roads, railways and telecommunications. The proposed Asian infrastructure Investment Bank with an initial contribution of US Dollars 50 billion by China is a giant step which will facilitate such progress. Sri Lanka is proud to be a pioneer signatory and shareholder of the AIIB.

Sri Lanka supports the concept Paper on ACD Regional Connectivity proposed by Thailand. We hope that all parties will identify connectivity constraints Asia faces in infrastructure, institutions and people to people contact and draw up a Master Plan for future ACD cooperation in related areas.

The proposal made by Kuwait during the first ACD Summit for establishing a two billion US Dollar Asian Development Fund for financing development projects in non-Arab ACD countries is most welcome since it would be difficult for many countries in the continent to self-finance its relevant component of the Master Plan.

ACD is a platform that offers immense potential for maximizing cooperation in various areas that have hitherto been unexploited. Collaboration in regional connectivity in the new Silk Road initiative could be one of those areas that needs to be promoted and coordinated by the ACD. I believe the spirit of Asian empathy and slidarity among us can carry forward this initiative successfully. Sri Lanka will wholeheartedly support steps to enhance connectivity through the Asian Silk Road.

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