Colombo, May 20 (newsin.asia): The Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said on Thursday that Sri Lanka will not allow any country to use it to jeopardize India’s security. But the island nation will continue to forge economic ties with China.
He was speaking at the 26th International Conference on “The Future of Asia” conducted by the Nikkei Forum from Tokyo.
Answering a question from moderate Go Yamada, Gotabaya said: “ While we are aware of world power rivalries and regional power dynamics, our foreign policy is neutral. We consider India our closest neighbor and a long-standing friend, and we understand their security concerns and sensitivities. We will never allow anyone to use Sri Lanka to jeopardize India’s security. We will work closely with India and all regional partners to ensure that the Indian Ocean remains secure for the benefit of all countries.”
Yamada had asked: “Last month, you conveyed very friendly message to visiting Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe. In this respect, as a South Asian nation, how do you balance the relationship with China and India from now on? And how do you think about establishment of the Defense tie with China?”
On China, Gotabaya said: “Sri Lanka has historic relationships spanning centuries with both India and China. Our deep social, cultural, religious, economic and diplomatic ties with India are well known. We have many strong bonds with China too. Formal diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and the Peoples Republic of China were established 64 years ago. The Rubber-Rice trade pact was signed even earlier, in 1952.”
“In recent decades, the relationship between Sri Lanka and China was strengthened because of the 30 years of terrorist conflict Sri Lanka experienced until 2009. Many countries provided essential support to Sri Lanka in overcoming this conflict. India provided training as well as critical non-offensive equipment. China, Pakistan, and Russia provided support that included weapons platforms, ammunition, and ordnance, mostly on commercial terms through state companies. Several countries also supported us with intelligence sharing.”
“After the conflict ended, Sri Lanka had urgent requirements for post-conflict reconstruction in war affected areas. We also needed accelerated infrastructure development throughout the country. Our rail and road networks, including expressways, and our port facilities needed expansion. China supported Sri Lanka by providing concessionary loans for many such projects. This has unfortunately been misinterpreted.”
On the controversial Hambantota port in South Sri Lanka, Gotabaya said: “Attention has been drawn to the Hambantota Port, which has been called a ‘debt trap’ by some. However, the requirement for a southern port in Sri Lanka had been there for a very long time. Different Presidents and Governments tried to construct that port over decades. However, it was only implemented in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure.”
“The Hambantota Port is a commercially viable project. The organization that took on a loan to ensure its construction is the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. This is a profitable enterprise, and it had a proper plan to repay the loan. In fact, the first instalment of the loan was paid in full. The Hambantota Port is not a ‘debt trap’, but a potentially transformative addition to Sri Lanka’s port infrastructure.”
“Our cooperation with China is on par with our overall economic and commercial trajectories. China has been a key investment partner to Sri Lanka, as have many other countries. As a developing country, Sri Lanka wishes to obtain the support of all partner nations to fast track our development aspirations and improve the livelihoods of our people. My Government is keen to further strengthen our relationships with Asian nations and countries farther away.”
Neutral Foreign Policy
Sri Lanka is following a neutral foreign policy Gotabaya said.
“We are determined to safeguard our national interests based on friendly, cooperative interactions with all our partners on equal terms. We follow a neutral foreign policy. We aim to harness the advantages of our strategic location to develop our economy and uplift the wellbeing of our people in a sustainable and equitable way. We seek to significantly strengthen our bilateral relationships with all countries, and in particular with our partner countries in the Asian region in terms of trade and investment.”
Colombo Port City
Referring to the US$ 1.4 billion Colombo Port City being built by the Chinese, and which acquired a legal structure after parliament passed a bill on Thursday, Gotabaya said: “ The Port City will be a Gateway to South Asia. It will create a vibrant new cityscape incorporating an international financial centre, a Marina district, outstanding residential and commercial facilities, as well as world class infrastructure, all within a tropical beachside paradise. New legislation that will ensure an attractive environment for investors and greater ease of doing business within the Port City has been prepared and is before Parliament. Special status and a host of exemptions and special incentives will be accorded to businesses that will have a broad economic impact.”
“I am confident that investors from all over the world will benefit greatly from these initiatives and from the Port City’s unique geostrategic position at the heart of one of the most rapidly advancing regions in the world. I invite all nations to encourage their businesses to take advantage of this opportunity, and to be part of what will become a key service hub to this region in the future.”
The Lankan President then went on to seek international investment in a variety of fields including agriculture, IT, tourism, hotels, health, clean power and tourism.