Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena agreed Wednesday to promote bilateral cooperation on maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region.
During their meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo, Abe and Sirisena confirmed that the two countries will advance bilateral defense exchanges, with Japan assisting Sri Lanka in capacity building for maritime law enforcement.
The two leaders also reaffirmed cooperation in upgrading the Indian Ocean country’s infrastructure, such as port facilities in Colombo, in an attempt to bolster connectivity in the region.
The agreements are part of Japan’s efforts to promote its “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy” aimed at ensuring stability from East Asia to Africa, through cooperation with nations that share values such as freedom of navigation and the rule of law.
Japan views Sri Lanka, located near major sea lanes, as central to the strategy amid China’s rising maritime presence in the region, Japanese government officials said.
“Our two countries will work hand in hand to make the Indo-Pacific a global commons to provide peace and prosperity for countries indiscriminately,” Abe said.
Japan pledged to provide up to ¥10.6 billion ($99.5 million) in low-interest loans for projects to improve Sri Lanka’s health and medical services, including building facilities and training nursing personnel.
“I firmly believe that our deliberations today assisted to further strengthen the existing partnership for the benefit of the two countries,” Sirisena told a news conference.
They also agreed on the necessity of keeping “maximum pressure” on North Korea, to prod it to abandon its nuclear weapons and missiles programs. Sri Lanka maintains diplomatic relations with North Korea while Japan does not.
Sirisena arrived in Japan on Monday for a six-day visit, after imposing a 10-day countrywide state of emergency on March 6 amid anti-Muslim rioting in the central part of the Buddhist-majority country.
The Sri Lankan president met with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on Tuesday, and is scheduled to visit Hiroshima on Thursday.