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Sri Lanka will adopt ‘India first approach’: Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage

Colombage said that the Rajapaksa foreign policy shift would mean that Sri Lanka would not be anymore reliant on a West-oriented policy.

By: PTI | Colombo | Updated: August 26, 2020 6:38:17 pm
Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka Prime Minister, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa India visit, Mahinda Rajapaksa to visit India, India news, Indian ExpressColombage said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would have an India first approach as the key to strategic security. (PTI)

Sri Lanka will adopt an “India first approach” as its new foreign policy plank and protect New Delhi’s strategic security interests, the country’s Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage has said as he sought to allay concerns amid China’s growing presence in the island nation.

Admiral Colombage became the first-ever foreign secretary from a military background when he was appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to head the Foreign Ministry on August 14.

In an interview published by Daily Mirror on Wednesday, Colombage said Sri Lanka is to adopt an ‘India first approach’ as its new regional foreign policy plank.

Explained: What the massive election victory for Rajapaksa means for Sri Lanka

“That means Sri Lanka will not do anything harmful to India’s strategic security interests,” said Colombage, who was the chief of the Sri Lanka Navy between 2012-14 and later became a foreign policy analyst mostly on the Chinese initiatives in Sri Lanka and the immediate region.

Colombage said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would have an India first approach as the key to strategic security.

Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka elections, Sri Lanka election results, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, Indian Express FILE – In this Aug. 11, 2019, file photo, former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, left, and former Defense Secretary and his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa wave to supporters during a party convention held to announce the presidential candidacy in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena, File)

“China is the second-largest economy and India is considered the sixth-largest. In 2018 India was the world’s fastest-growing economy. That means we are between two economic giants”, he said. “Sri Lanka cannot afford, should not afford and will not afford any particular country to use it as a staging area to do anything against another country, especially so India,” he said.

Read: Mahinda Rajapaksa: Sri Lanka’s man for all seasons

Commenting on the Chinese investment in the southern port of Hambantota, Colombage says that Sri Lanka had offered India Hambantota first. “India did not undertake it for whatever reason, then it went to a Chinese company”, he said.

“Now we have given 85 per cent stake of Hambantota port to China Merchant Holding Company. That should be limited to commercial activities. It is zero for military purposes,” he said.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, Mahinda Rajapaksa oath taking, Mahinda Rajapaksa oath taking ceremony, Sri Lanka elections, World news, Indian Express Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa sits for photographs with his lawmaker son Namal following his election victory in the general election at his residence in Tangalle, Sri Lanka, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Colombage said that despite opposition from port worker trade unions, President Rajapaksa would go ahead with the memorandum of cooperation signed with India on the Colombo Port’s Eastern terminal.

Colombo Port is the largest and busiest port in Sri Lanka. Located on the southwestern shores on the Kelani River, it serves as an important terminal in Asia due to its strategic location in the Indian Ocean.

The previous Sirisena government had signed a “memorandum of cooperation” (MOC) with India and Japan for a tripartite effort to develop the terminal which is located just next to the USD 500 million Chinese-run Colombo International Container Terminal.

“The President has said that he is ready to honour the agreement. As per the new guidance of the President, no national asset is given with total control to any country,” he said.

Colombage said that the Rajapaksa foreign policy shift would mean that Sri Lanka would not be anymore reliant on a West-oriented policy.

The most dynamic foreign office officials would be posted in Sri Lanka’s neighbourhood, in the Middle East, Bangladesh, Africa and ASEAN in line with the new foreign policy shift where the emphasis would be on the neighbourhood.

China has been making significant forays into Sri Lanka, especially in the defence field. Beijing’s activities have caused regional concerns, especially in India.

Sri Lankan in 2017 handed over the Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease. There are regional concerns, mostly from India, that China may make a military presence at Hambantota, located on a key sea international shipping route.

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