Coming as a positive assurance to India, Sri Lanka’s newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has announced ahead of his visit to India that he will work with India and won’t do anything that will harm its interests.
Rajapaksa, who is considered a pro-China leader in Sri Lanka, said that he wanted Sri Lanka to be a “neutral country” and work with all the countries. Rajapaksa will travel to New Delhi on November 29 on his maiden official trip abroad as Sri Lankan President. Rajapaksa’s swearing-in ceremony was held in Anuradhapura, the World Heritage City known for its ancient links with India
Rajapaksa said, “We don’t want to get in between the power struggles of superpowers… We are so small and we can’t survive to get into this balancing act. We want to work with all the countries and we don’t want to do anything which will harm any other country for that matter, we understand the importance of Indian concerns, so we can’t engage in any activity which will threaten the security of India.”
Throwing more emphasis on India’s concerns he further elaborated that Sri Lanka’s involvement with China during the presidency of his elder brother Mahinda (from 2005-2015) was “purely commercial”, he said, “I invite India, Singapore, Japan and Australia to come and invest here. Don’t allow only China to invest.” He vowed to create an investment-friendly environment in Sri Lanka. He also said that giving away the Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease was a mistake by the previous government headed by former President Maithripala Sirisena. He assured that the deal would be renegotiated.
Notably, China, which acquired Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port in 2017 as a debt swap, has been ramping up its ties with the island nation and expanded its naval presence in the Indian Ocean with an established logistics base in Djibouti.
Moreover, Rajapaksa has also allowed a Russian Navy ship to visit the Hambantota port. This move comes as a matter of huge relief for India, which has been concerned about the use of this strategically located port by the Chinese Navy, something that is opposed to India’s interests in the Indian Ocean Region. India has been trying to maintain a balance with China in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), exclusive use of Hambantota port by the Chinese navy was a cause of concern for New Delhi. Delhi sighs in relief as Sri Lanka has started extending its use to ships to another country.
Amazingly, the Rajapaksa brothers who seemed pro-China during their previous regime have shown indications of keeping a cordial relationship with India. On the other hand, several leaders including the pro- Rajapaksa, leader of the BJP, Subramanian Swamy have also expressed optimism regarding the new regime in Sri Lanka.
Previously, the deterioration in the relations between Rajapaksa and India was therefore based on a perceived pro-China stance of Sri Lanka under the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime and the insecurities harboured by Mahinda Rajapaksa against India.
The government of India left no stone unturned in showing its eagerness to work with the Rajapaksa brothers. External affairs minister S Jaishankar dropped by in Sri Lanka for an unannounced two-day visit and carried Prime Minister Modi’s invitation to visit India on November 29, thereby becoming the first foreign dignitary to call on President Rajapaksa. This move showed the foxy diplomatic attitude towards the new government.