Colombo, June 7: The Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliament on Tuesday, that Sri Lanka has been badly mishandling relations with its tried and trusted friends in the international sphere.
“India, China and Japan are leading the list of countries that provide us with loans and assistance. Relations with these countries, which have always been strong, are now broken. Those relationships need to be rebuilt,” he said.
Referring to Japan, the Prime Minister said: “Japan is our long-time friend. A nation that has helped our country greatly. But they are now unhappy with us due to the unfortunate events of the past. Our country had failed to formally notify Japan of the suspension of certain projects. Sometimes the reasons for these suspensions were not even stated. According to reports submitted by an individual, some projects undertaken by Japan in our country have been halted midway through.”
“Japan and India had agreed to supply us with two LNG power plants. The CEB (Ceylon Electricity Board) stopped those two projects without any justifiable reason. Japan had agreed to provide about US$ 3 billion worth of projects to our country by 2019. All of these projects were put on hold for no reason. I urge the Parliamentary Committee on Public Finance to conduct an inquiry into the suspension of such valuable projects granted to us by our longtime allies for unstated reasons.”
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe wants Sri Lankans to view foreign investors and aid givers in a different way. He said: “Despite the alienation, India offered to help us in the face of the growing crisis. We express our respect and gratitude to them during this difficult time. We are also working to re-establish old friendships with Japan.”
Spat With Russia
With the Colombo Commercial High Court lifting its injunction against an aircraft belonging to Russia’s Aeroflot Airlines on Monday, the a five-day spat between Moscow and Colombo ended, but not without leaving a bad taste in the mouth of the Russians who have consistently helped Sri Lanka, especially when it is pilloried by Western nations at the UN for alleged “war crimes”.
Quite justifiably, the Russians felt that the Sri Lankan government was callous in its approach to the case. It had failed to present documents it had in support of Aeroflot and was indifferent to the need to maintain cordial relations with a friendly country.
The government did not take the lead in telling the court that there was a written agreement between Sri Lanka and Russia on the operation of aircraft by Aeroflot and that its registration and insurance were in order. The government had callously treated the case as a dispute between two private parties – the Ireland-based Lessor of the aircraft and Aeroflot, the Lessee, and washed its hands of the case.
This was Colombo’s stand even after the Russian Foreign Office summoned the Sri Lankan Ambassador and warned that unless the aircraft was released soon, bilateral ties would be in jeopardy. Finally, it was on the instructions of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister that the government’s counsel intervened in the court to have the injunction removed. The lack of coordination between the judiciary and the government necessary for dealing with sensitive international cases, was glaring.
A similar case in November 2021, involving China, caused a rift between Colombo and Beijing, the largest foreign investor in Sri Lanka and a consistent supporter at the UN Human Rights Council.
The Sri Lankan plant quarantine authorities had refused to allow the landing of a consignment of 20,000 mt of organic fertilizer sent by the Chinese company Qindao Seawin Biotech on the grounds that it contained harmful bacteria. The court also ordered the bank not to release money (US$ 9 million) for the cargo. The Chinese company contended that the testing at Colombo was scientifically flawed, and that, at any rate, there was no local quarantine requirement in the contract. Moreover, the consignment had already been cleared by a well-known Western testing agency. The Chinese company went in for arbitration in Singapore and the Chinese embassy backed it as the image of a well- known Chinese company was involved.
What could have been sorted diplomatically and quietly was complicated by quarantine officials who kept speaking to the media and publicly degrading the internationally known Chinese company. The matter was finally sorted out by high level political intervention.
Apparently, China is still nursing the wound, and is now punishing Sri Lanka by not coming to its aid in the current economic crisis or even agreeing to reschedule the repayment of the loans (US$ 5 billion) given by it. Sri Lanka, which has defaulted, is desperately trying to get the payment schedules extended.
The Lankan media have also criticized the grant of solar projects in Mannar and Pooneryn in North Sri Lanka to the Indian tycoon, Gautam Adani, though India has been pumping in a lot of money (US$ 3.5 billion) to help Sri Lanka pull itself out of the current economic quagmire.
The media quoted Ajith P. Perera of the opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), as saying: “ It is with deep regret that we note that the Adani Group has chosen the back door to enter Sri Lanka. Avoiding competition is not something we take kindly. It hurts our battered economy, aggravates the balance of payment issues, and causes further misery to our citizens. PM Modi may have given us crucial financial assistance during our current economic crisis, but that doesn’t mean our renewable energy sector’s most valuable lands and resources can be stolen for his friend Adani…The [Rajapaksa] government has many decent ways to thank PM Modi rather than pampering his notorious friends.”
There is already a Sri Lankan nationalist opposition to the India-Sri Lanka deal on the Trincomalee oil tanks. The nationalists’ goal has been to take over the 99 tanks which had been handed over to India for joint development with Sri Lanka, through a bilateral agreement. Some past Sri Lankan governments had tried to take them over but had failed as India insisted that a bilateral agreement could not be terminated unilaterally, arbitrarily and forcibly.