During a virtual webinar, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary, and accused war criminal, Jayanth Colombage expressed concern over the US-backed Quadrilateral Security Dialogue Alliance (QUAD), asking:
“Do we really need a QUAD? Will QUAD not give rise – not to a cold war – but at least a cool war in the Indian ocean?”
The US-backed military alliance is an informal forum between the US, Japan, Australia, and India which conducts semi-regular summits, information exchanges and conducts military drills with member countries. They first met in 2007 however there have been objections from China which has led to some countries withdrawing.
The Wire notes that China has consistently been among Sri Lanka’s top foreign investors and has heavily invested in infrastructural assets such as ports which have caused some anxiety in India.
During the webinar, Colombage claimed that Sri Lanka held a position of neutrality and “doesn’t to be caught up in this power game”. The webinar itself follows two high-ranking diplomatic meetings between Sri Lanka and China’s Foreign Ministry and a separate visit by officials from the US State Department.
During President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s meeting with Yang Jiechi, a high-ranking Chinese diplomat, the Chinese official reassured the president that China would defend Sri Lanka “international fora including United Nations Human Rights Council”.
On 28 October, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo visited Sri Lanka and warned against stronger ties with China, labelling the country as a “predator”. Pompeo’s visit discussed a wide range of issues including trade, accountability for rights abuses.
Read more here: Pompeo discusses China, trade and travel bans with Sri Lanka
Wimal Weerawansa, an outspoken Sinhala chauvinist politician and leader of the National Freedom Front party, later told reporters that both the Sri Lankan President and Prime Minister opposed Pompeo’s visit. The Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, reportedly shunned a meeting with the Secretary of State.
The Daily Express reports that to prior the meeting top Sri Lankan officials expressed alarm over discussion of human rights and accountability and struck back at the US stating:
“All the three leaders will tell the ranking US official politely that it is not for outsiders to tell Sri Lankans how to run their country”.
The day before Pompeo’s arrival there was also a protest outside the US Embassy in Colombo by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and several Sinhala Buddhist monks.
Concerns over military alliances
Responding to the Malabar military exercise conducted by the Japanese, US, Australian and Indian government; Colombage expressed concern stating:
“We are observing the rise of Quad as an exclusive military alliance. That is the problem. If Quad is aiming at economic revival, there are no issues.”
Colombage noted Sri Lanka’s strategic location within the India Ocean stating:
“Unfortunately, or fortunately, Sri Lanka is at the crossroad of both – (the United States’) Indo-Pacific as well as (the Chinese) Belt and Road Initiative.”
He further commented that whilst Sri Lanka had nothing to say about the preservation of “major powers” in the Indian Ocean, there is a “very natural evolution [towards] a more multipolar world”.
“Well, if that (leads to) …a more inclusive multipolar world, I think that Sri Lanka as a small country will be very, very happy”, he added.
Colombage stressed that India should not be concerned over their security as Sri Lanka would undermine it.
“We will not, we cannot be, we should not be a strategic security concern to India. Period. We have to understand the importance of India in the region and we have to understand that Sri Lanka is very much in the maritime and air security umbrellas of India. We need to benefit from that”, he further stated.
The Wire reports that he conveyed this message to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, saying:
“Yesterday (October 28), I will confess to you, in front on Mike Pompeo, our president said that as long as I am in power, I will never allow to harm India’s strategic interests. I was very happy when he was reiterating this to the Secretary of state.”
Whilst Colombage lamented the “militarisation of maritime trade” noting that since 2009, “550 warships from 28 countries have visited Sri Lanka”; he did not reference the increasing militarisation and continued land theft across the North-East by Sri Lanka’s military.
Last week TNPF lawmaker, Selvarajah Kajendren, raised concerns over the proliferation of military checkpoints and illegal fishing by Sinhala fisherman with assistance from Sri Lanka’s Navy, across the North-East.
"Livelihoods of 4000 families of Vadamaradchi East, mostly fishermen, have been systematically destroyed by the government with Southern Sinhala fishermen allowed to engage in illegal fishing, with the assistance of Ministry of Fisheries, the Navy, and Police," he said.
Kajendren also commented on the proliferation of military checkpoints across the Tamil homeland. "On a 88 km stretch of road from Paranthan - Kokkilaai, the military has set up 9 check points, harassing travellers, even stopping ambulances and schoolchildren,” he said. “These checkpoints should be removed immediately."
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