Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary, Jayanath Colombage, has claimed that Rajapaksa administration will adopt an “India first” approach with respects to strategic security and has approved a memorandum of cooperation signed with India which regards Colombo Port’s Eastern terminal.
According to Colombage, the “Rajapaksa foreign policy shift would mean that Sri Lanka would not be any more reliant on a West-oriented policy”, reports the Live Mint.
This announcement comes despite protests from port worker trade unions and increasing concern over China’s growing presence in Sri Lanka.
Colombage is Sri Lanka’s first Foreign Secretary from a military background as he served as the Naval Commander in Trincomalee from January 2010 to September 2012. During this time, he was implicated in the running of the Illegal detention and torture site known as “Gota's Camp” within the Trincomalee Naval Complex.
According to Colombage, an Indian first policy will mean that Sri Lanka “will not do anything harmful to India’s strategic security interests”.
Commenting on China, Colombage stated:
“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,"
"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 added.
With respects to the southern port of Hambantota, Colombage claims that whilst India was offered an investment opportunity, they did undertake it so they “went to a Chinese company”.
He further stated that the Chinese Merchant Holding Company holds an 85 per cent stake in the port but that it is limited to commercial activities. He also emphasised that it was not for military purposes. This holds a specific regional concern for India as there are concerns that China may make a military presence at Hambantota which is located on a key sea international shipping route.
The Live Mint reports that the previous administration 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. In 2017 that administration handed over the Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease.
Colombopage has insisted that under the President’s new guidance “no national asset is given with total control to any country”.
Read more from the Live Mint.