SL: An Acid Test For Indo-China Relations
- MR slams the West at NAM
- China flexes muscles over Sri Lanka
The Indo-China battle for supremacy in the Indian Ocean has now openly entered Sri Lanka with delegations from both countries making a string of appearances.
The visits have created the impression of one country trying to outdo the other.
The past few months have seen several ministerial and a parliamentary delegation from India visiting Sri Lanka to strengthen bi-lateral relations and to open new avenues to build its links.
Seeing the Indians aggressively entering the country, China has also decided to make in-roads to Sri Lanka more openly than usual.
The Indo-China clashes that have been taking place behind the scenes are now likely to come out in the open with both countries trying to enter into key sectors in the Sri Lankan economy.
While New Delhi has continuously been at diplomatic loggerheads with Colombo over the political solution to the ethnic issue and the post war reconciliation process, Beijing has been the ‘good Samaritan’ offering ‘assistance’ to build Sri Lanka’s post war economy.
India’s decision to vote in favour of the US backed resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session in March made the Mahinda Rajapaksa government move more towards its ally, China.
Following the UNHRC sessions in March, the Rajapaksa government is more dependent on China and Russia for support in the Council.
The visit by high-powered Chinese delegations to Sri Lanka within a time span of a few weeks would undoubtedly be a cause for concern to India.
A high-powered Chinese defence delegation led by Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie arrived in Sri Lanka on Wednesday for a five-day visit.
Guanglie headed the 25-member delegation that met with senior government members including President Mahinda Rajapaksa during the visit.
During the visit, Guanglie openly admitted to the importance of the Indian Ocean region and the South Asian countries.
The Chinese Defence Minister addressing tri-service student military officers under training at Sri Lanka’s Defence Services Command and Staff College (DSCSC) in Sapugaskanda explained that the region is an important energy and material transportation route for China as five of its 14 neighbours are South Asian nations.
He has noted that China therefore gave great importance to its relations with the South Asian nations and commits itself to forging harmonious co-existence and mutually beneficial and win-win cooperation with them. He has emphasized that Chinese Army’s efforts in conducting friendly exchanges and cooperation with its counterparts in the South Asian nations are intended for maintaining regional security and stability and not targeted at any third party.
“Let’s join hands, and work together for opening up a new chapter in the China-Sri Lanka friendly and cooperative relations, and contribute for the welfare of our two peoples and peace and development of the world,” Guanglie has said.
China is reportedly providing US$100 million (Rs.13.2 billion) for army welfare projects initiated by the Defence Ministry.
China has also announced a grant of US$1.5 million for modernization of the Defense Services College in Colombo for children of security forces personnel and the police.
Guanglie’s visit follows the Sri Lanka Army Commander Jagath Jayasuriya’s visit to Beijing in June this year.
Chinese Defence Minister who met Sri Lanka Army Commander in Beijing has reiterated China’s support to boost military cooperation between the countries to a higher level.
Another high-powered Chinese delegation of 96 members led by the Chinese People’s Congress’ Vice President Wu Bango will arrive in Sri Lanka on September 15.
The delegation is scheduled to visit Hambantota and Northern and Eastern Provinces to observe the current developments in the country and explore new possibilities for Chinese ventures in Sri Lanka.
Relations with the West
Although the government has focused on building relations with China and other Asian countries, Sri Lanka is yet to fully re-build its soured relations with the West.
Sir Lanka after maintaining strong ties with the West, especially the US during the successive UNP governments till 1994 and a brief period between 2001 and 2004, has seen a downward trend in its relations with the West since 2005.
Hence Japanese Special Envoy Yasushi Akashi, during his visit to Sri Lanka last week, expressed willingness to be a moderator in helping the Rajapaksa government build its relations with the West.
A Japanese news agency reported that Japan is willing to help Sri Lanka improve relations with the West.
Akashi, who concluding his visit last week, has said that he had told President Rajapaksa in a meeting that Japan is, “willing to assist in the efforts to develop the relationship between Sri Lanka and the international community.”
Akashi was due to visit New Delhi on his return trip to Japan to brief the Indian government on his Sri Lankan visit.
Soon after Rajapaksa waged war with the LTTE after assuming office in 2005, the government has constantly been at loggerheads with the international community on the war.
The West continuously expressed concern over alleged human rights abuses during the final stages of the war against the LTTE, which the Rajapaksa government continues to deny.
The clash between Sri Lanka and the international community resulted in the UN coming under pressure to appoint a panel of experts to report on the situation in Sri Lanka propelling the government to appoint the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to counter allegations leveled against the country.
The US finally pushed a resolution calling on the government to implement the LLRC recommendations at the UNHRC.
MR at NAM
Nevertheless, while Akashi was trying to play the role of mediator between the Sri Lankan government and the international community, President Rajapaksa took a swipe at the West at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Tehran, Iran.
Speaking of security of nations and defeating terrorism, the President said Sri Lanka was fortunate to have ended the terrorist challenge three years ago, largely through its own efforts.
“I strongly believe that ending a threat of this nature and overcoming the challenges in its aftermath requires a home-grown, people based approach, as in the case of my country,” he said.
“Similarly, the international community must support countries facing the threat of terrorism. There can be no double standards or the selective application of standards and principles, if we are to eliminate this menace. We also uphold the principle that sovereignty must be respected and equal treatment accorded to all. Non-interference in the internal affairs of States, as clearly reflected in the UN Charter and the principles of NAM, must remain an abiding principle to be followed in spirit and letter,” he added.
Rajapaksa also touched on the global financial crisis and how Sri Lanka faced the situation. “We are still burdened and seriously disadvantaged by the weight of the global crisis that originated in the financial hubs of the world. In many cases, financial markets and economies operated irresponsibly, bringing calamity to millions of lives, and disrupting the social fabric putting at risk the future of the young…,” the President observed.
However, Rajapaksa took another swipe at the West by saying, “Unfortunately, developing countries still continue to get policy prescriptions from these very countries where economies and financial markets have been mismanaged. It is of the greatest importance to ensure that the proposed solutions do not impose unjustifiable burdens on developing nations.”
“It is indeed reassuring Mr. Chairman, to note that the impact of the global financial crisis has been minimal in many of our countries in the South due to lessons from previous crises and the sagacity with which we managed our economies. I take modest pride in the fact that Sri Lanka is one of the economies in Asia where impressive successes have been recorded during these turbulent times.”
Meanwhile, the government last week said it had decided to discuss importing oil from Iran following issues over the standard of fuel imports. Petroleum Minister Susil Premajayantha told a news conference before leaving for Iran with the President that a special government team would visit Iran to discuss about importing oil from the country.
The discussion is to take place in the wake of US and European sanctions against Iran.
Premajayantha has said the US had granted a special six months grace period to import 10 oil shipments from Iran.
However, amidst all these developments, India continues to be a focal point in the Rajapaksa government’s new foreign policy post March 22.
Indo-Sri Lankan relations that have been at a low ebb picked following a meeting between Rajapaksa and Indian Premier Manmohan Singh at the Rio summit in June. The leaders of both countries during the meeting pledged to nurture the long-standing close ties between the two countries without allowing them to deteriorate and to amicably solve any contentious issue through mutual negotiations.
In keeping with the move to strengthen relations with India, the government last week proposed to restructure diplomatic relations with India by expanding its presence in the country. External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris has proposed to the Cabinet of Ministers to expand diplomatic and consular representations in India through expansion of the existing missions in India to “suit the present day needs.” What Peiris exactly meant by present day needs is that Sri Lanka has now realized the importance of India when dealing with the international community. The Rajapaksa government is conscious of the fact that India would once again play a key role in relation to Sri Lanka at the UNHRC come November.
India will lead the troika that would oversee Sri Lanka’s review at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva in November.
Peiris’ proposal calls for appointing two Tamil speaking officers from the public service to the office of the Deputy High Commission of Sri Lanka in Chennai.
Other measures are to appoint a senior officer from the Sri Lanka Foreign Service to head the Consulate General in Mumbai and to create an additional diplomatic post for a middle-ranking officer from the Department of Commerce.
The Cabinet has last week also approved the creation of an additional post at the Sri Lanka High Commission in New Delhi to exclusively deal with the country’s bilateral, economic, investment and trade relations with India.
Sri Lanka is to also open the Consulate General in Kolkata with the staff strength of Consular General, a personal assistant, a Sri Lanka Foreign Service officer, an Attaché and Public Management Assistant and appoint Honorary Consuls in Hyderabad, Lucknow and Thiruvananthapuram.
Nevertheless, Sri Lanka continues to be a contentious issue with South India.
It has also posed a barricade on building relations between Sri Lanka and India.
A South Indian College that was hosting Sri Lankan students caused a massive protest in Trichy.
The Indian media reported that Kalai Kaviri College of Fine Arts in Trichy had to pay a heavy price for hosting Sri Lankan students at its premises. Volunteers of Naam Thamizhar had stormed the institution accusing them of harbouring Sri Lankans and conducting cultural programmes with the latter.
Soon after news of the Sri Lankan students at the South Indian College had spread, Naam Thamizhar volunteers had staged a protest in front of the college demanding cancellation of all programmes involving Lankans with immediate effect.A police team had visited the college after getting wind of the protest, and stopped a cultural programme that was scheduled that afternoon. The Indian media reported that both the Sri Lankan students and the college management paid a heavy price for not taking into consideration the ground realities existing in Tamil Nadu.
The strong anti-Sri Lankan sentiments would not only pose a barrier to Sri Lanka’s move to expand its presence in India, but also an issue for the Central Indian government in its dealings with Sri Lanka.