Don’t seek exclusive rights to Sri Lanka, Rajiv Wijesinghe tells India,
Posted on April 15th, 2012

By Walter Jayawardhana

India should not feel awkward about the Chinese presence in Sri Lanka since there is plenty of room for both declared Member of Parliament and Presidential advisor Rajiv Wijesinghe in an interview in New Delhi.

In a stopover in the Indian capital while travelling to Nepal Wijesinghe said India cannot have exclusive rights in Sri Lanka since there is plenty of room for both countries.

 China’s growing presence in Srilanka is a matter that should not worry India at all since Sri Lanka wants to be friendly with both countries said the Sri Lankan diplomat, who added “We are good friends with both India and China.” Wijesinha was speaking to an IANS correspondent.

“And there is plenty of room for both.”

Wijesinha, who studied at Oxford University and has worked as a professor, said Sri Lanka’s geographical position makes it attractive for both the countries, “but (seeking) exclusive rights to Sri Lanka is a waste of time”.

“Not at all, not at all,” said Wijesinha when asked whether India should begin to worry about the projects being undertaken by China in the island nation.

Citing the example of Hambantota port, he said: “We first offered its development to India. When it didn’t go ahead, it was given to China.”

The port is located in Hambantota, one of the lowest per capita income regions in Sri Lanka, and the port will be an important catalyst for major economic development. The total estimated construction cost of Phase 1 of the project is $361 million, out of which 85 percent has been funded by the Ex-Im Bank of China.

The professor said that now India is “moving quickly” and working at the Kankesanturai port in the north.

He gave the assurance that “India has nothing to worry about” regarding China and added: “China is not a Big Brother”.

Wijesinha, who is advisor to the president for reconciliation, would like India to help out in providing micro-credit to the ex-combatants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

In May 2009, Colombo militarily crushed the LTTE, the last stages of the war leaving thousands of combatants and civilians dead.

India outlawed the LTTE in 1992, a year after a Tiger suicide bomber assassinated former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The bloody war in Sri Lanka, Wijesinha said, left 300,000 internally displaced people. “About 10,000 combatants surrendered while another 1,000 were later caught.”

“The idea is to provide micro-credit to the former combatants so that they can restart their lives through entrepreneurship,” he said.

“We will soon approach India so that a sum of 1,000 lakh Sri Lankan rupees ($820,000) can be distributed to at least 1,000 ex-combatants.”

“Speaking animatedly on his favourite subject of education, he admitted that though his country has high literacy, “a lot still needs to be done”.

“We have to fast forward education,” said the professor who has published “Beyond the First Circle: Travels in the Second and Third Worlds”.

He stressed that India has “done a lot” to help reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

“India has not done a song and dance about it,” he said with a smile as he tried straightening his tousled hair.

6 Responses to “Don’t seek exclusive rights to Sri Lanka, Rajiv Wijesinghe tells India,”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    “but (seeking) exclusive rights to Sri Lanka is a waste of time.”

    Well said Prof.

    At last someone has the backbone to tell the Indians where they stand.

    This is a DEVIATION from the “India is my relative” stand which assumes exclusivity.

  2. Voice123 Says:

    Shame on India. India should put China before the USA or the West, as China is a fellow Asian country and India, China and Sri Lanka have more in common with each other than the West. If you read the media, it seems that all Indians are paranoid about China but see the West as some sort of powerful saviour or patron. India’s stance only proves that India is run by an elite crowd that does not govern for the interests of the majority of Indians but for their elite clique only. The day we see real democracy in India, none of this would be happening. Are there any pro-Asia Indians that we could connect with? I know the RSSS is one of them but RSSS is unfortunately a sectarian group. Would it take a violent revolution in India to overthrow this slavish regime?

  3. Dham Says:

    Why should India be asked to donate one lack each to the ex-cadres. Sri lanka can easily do that.
    We must ask them to repair the damge done by them ( using proxy) to the infrastructure.

  4. Nalliah Thayabharan Says:

    Contrary to claims made by analysts suspicious of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s diplomacy with China and connection to his home district of Hambantota, the September 2005 Joint Communiqué between Rajapaksa’s predecessor, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, and President Hu Jintao shows that Hambantota was officially targeted for Chinese development even before its native son assumed the presidency. The Sri Lankan government requested Chinese funding for several projects, including Hambantota. In return, China agreed to “encourage and support its financial institutions to effectively examine the request.” The March 2007 Joint Communiqué between both Rajapaksa and Hu acknowledged progress toward construction of a port in Hambantota, which began later that year.Incidentally, Chinese businesses do not appear to have been the only investors Sri Lanka solicited for help in building this port. Former US ambassador to Sri Lanka, Ashley Wills, calimed that he had been approached on several occasions by Rajapaksa to encourage Americans to provide funds for the Hambantota project. Ultimately, potential American investors were not interested in building another port when Colombo Port was already widely used and Sri Lanka’s civil war was perceived as posing a financial risk. Sri Lankan ambassador to the United States mirrors Ambassador Wills’s recollection about the Sri Lankan government’s openness to all investors, not only Chinese. Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya remarked:
    “We have an open invitation to US companies . . . If China builds one port, then the US can build two ports. Sri Lanka doesn’t have enemies, and we invite anybody to come and invest in Sri Lanka. China is not blocking anybody. We need more and more countries to come in and work together.”

  5. Nalliah Thayabharan Says:

    In January 1950, Sri Lanka was among the first countries to provide diplomatic recognition to the PRC, which had been founded a few months earlier in October 1949. By February 1957, both young nation-states had established full diplomatic relations and exchanged ambassadors. The economic “Rubber-Rice Pact” contributed to solidifying political bonds that have endured more than five decades, with the fiftieth anniversary of diplomatic ties in 2007 being hailed as “China–Sri Lanka Friendship Year.” Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said as recently as October 2009: “We value our strong friendship and cooperation with Sri Lanka.”

    Vital to this longstanding diplomatic relationship is Sri Lanka’s acceptance of the PRC’s “One-China” Policy. Sri Lanka recognizes the PRC, rather than Taiwan, as the only government of China. Since China and Sri Lanka attended the 1955 Bandung Conference of Asian and African nations, China has repeatedly stated that bilateral relations are based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence (FPPC), two of which are mutual noninterference in each other’s internal affairs and mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

    For instance, during Sri Lanka’s civil war, President Hu affirmed China’s support for Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Returning the FPPC sentiment, President Rajapaksa characterized Sri Lanka’s relations with China a year later: “The two countries are tested friends” and “Sri Lanka has always firmly stood by and will never change its stance on one- China policy.”

    Even as recently as February 2010, PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu relied on the FPPC during a press conference by resisting criticism of the Sri Lankan government after the arrest of presidential challenger Gardihewa Sarath Chandralal Fonseka following the January 2010 election:

    Q: Is China concerned about the recent situation in Sri Lanka and the arrest of its opposition leader? Has China communicated with Sri Lanka on that?
    A: Your question concerns the internal affairs of Sri Lanka. China never interferes with other [countries’] internal affairs and I am not in a position to make comment on that . . .

    Q: You just said that the situation in Sri Lanka is its internal affairs. However, over the recent years, the EU, the US, Japan and other countries have expressed concern over the situation there. Meanwhile, China has greatly increased its aid to Sri Lanka and helped the latter to build ports and airports. How do you square your mounting assistance to Sri Lanka with non-interference in its internal affairs?
    A: China always pursues an independent foreign policy of peace and develops friendship and cooperation with other countries on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence. China has provided assistance to Sri Lanka within its capacity, which is normal exchange between two friends within the framework of bilateral ties and brooks no censure. It has nothing to do with the internal affairs of Sri Lanka.

    Clearly, both countries are motivated by self-interest in supporting the FPPC when confronting human rights concerns and separatism either in northern Sri Lanka or in Tibet and Xinjiang in China.

    Just as Sri Lanka supported the right of the PRC to sit in China’s UN seat instead of Taiwan, or the Republic of China, during the 1950s and 1960s, China came to the aid of Sri Lanka at the UN in March through May 2009 over Western allegations of human rights violations during the culmination of the civil war. First, China used its weight as a permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to keep Sri Lanka off the agenda in the UN in March 2009.

    On its Web site, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense, Public Security, Law, and Order announced China’s opposition to a motion to discuss the humanitarian situation in the north of Sri Lanka:
    China informs the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) not to interfere in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. A proposal has been included in the agenda of the council said that civilians are affected by the humanitarian operations in the north. The council was compelled to withdraw the motion on two occasions due to stern opposition of China. China has reiterated that Sri Lankan military operations have no effect on international peace and security.

    Then in May 2009, a two-day special session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) witnessed the defeat of a European-backed resolution that tried to launch a war crimes probe into the Sri Lankan government’s actions. Instead, the 47-member body concluded the session when China joined India, Russia, and others in passing a resolution authored by Sri Lanka (29 to 12, with 6 abstentions) that characterized the civil war as a “domestic matter that doesn’t warrant outside interference.” The May 27, 2009, resolution “reaffirmed . . . the principle of non-interference in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of states.”

    Foreign Minister Chandrasekera Rohitha Bandara Bogollagama has discussed how much Sri Lanka “appreciated the support extended by China to Sri Lanka in various international and multilateral fora.” The UNSC and UNHRC episodes are the apex of close diplomatic relations between China and Sri Lanka and demonstrate China’s willingness to defend the FPPC value of noninterference when possible. One wonders, however, whether the outcome might have been different had Beijing been challenged on its stance, as happened when China was compelled by criticism to alter its policy toward Sudan.

  6. Nalliah Thayabharan Says:

    Sri Lanka’s relations with China have been deepening on the basis of increased economic, military, and diplomatic interactions. Chinese investment in Sri Lanka is clearly increasing, as seen in high-profile infrastructure development projects throughout the country. Accelerating trade and investment ties represents the strongest economic case for structural realists arguing that Sri Lanka is bandwagoning with China, especially due to fears of Chinese presence in the potentially strategic location of the port in Hambantota. Yet, Hambantota represents one of many infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka, including the development of new roads and power plants – not only by Chinese firms but also by Japanese, Iranian, Indian, and Saudi Arabian companies. Furthermore, it is hard to imagine Sri Lanka turning down US investment, if offered.
    Chinese military support may have been vital to the government’s victory in the civil war.
    But Sri Lankan government cancelled a US$200 million Chinese ammunition shipment ordered by Sarath Fonseka’s son-in-law, soon after its victory. Instead this cancellation, in addition to the end of military conflict, could signal the beginning of a decline in Sri Lanka seeking Chinese arms exports.
    Sri Lankan government welcomed China’s support during dire moments of confrontation with Western countries over its handling of the final phase of the war against the LTTE. Also, high-level Sri Lankan officials have been actively courting local and national Chinese government officials to bolster bilateral trade relations. Sri Lanka’s decision to boycott the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honoring a Chinese dissident can be explained as Sri Lanka sharing
    FPPC values with China, as neither country wants to be scrutinized for its internal political processes or adherence to rule of law. Also, the government’s high-level visits to China are clearly trying to ensure Sri Lanka’s economic interests and development.
    Meanwhile, these trips are not exclusive to China, as Rajapaksa visited India as recently as June 2010. For its part, the Chinese government sends some high-level officials to Sri Lanka but has not reciprocated with head-of-state visits by Hu Jintao, who has never traveled to Sri Lanka, or by Wen Jiabao, who last visited in 2005.
    Although it is clear that Sri Lanka’s relationship with China has been tightening on the basis of increased economic, military, and diplomatic interactions, no evidence exists that Sri Lanka will be obligated to China strategically due to these stronger ties. Sri Lanka has economic debts to pay China due to infrastructure development loans and weapons used in its civil war, but there is no proof at this point that these will translate to Chinese strategic sway over major Sri Lankan foreign policy decisions such as bandwagoning with China against India and the United States.

    China’s interest in infrastructure development along the Indian Ocean coastline appears to be largely commercial. Former Indian Navy Commander Gurpreet Khurana is not yet convinced that proof exists that China has broader strategic aims in the IOR. He writes: “China and the IOR countries involved maintain that the transport infrastructure being built is purely for commercial use. There is no decisive evidence at this point to assert otherwise because these facilities are in nascent stages of development.”

    China’s military leadership is not monolithic in intentions regarding an overseas presence. Several deputies to the National People’s Congress – Zhang Deshun, a retired deputy chief of staff of the Chinese Navy; Senior Colonel Yan Baojian, a fleet commander in the South China Sea Fleet; and Rear Admiral Cao Dongshen, also a naval commander – articulate an authoritative, countervailing position to that of Rear Admiral Yin Zhou, where the Chines Navy “has no plans, nor is there a necessity, to establish overseas military bases.”

    There are reasons to be skeptical of Chinese ambitions in the IOR due to China’s lack of maritime capabilities. China remains far from having a naval base beyond Chinese waters, owing to obstacles such as the need for the Chinese Navy to expand its at-sea replenishment capacity and secure access privileges in locations such as Pakistan, Burma and perhaps Sri Lanka or Bangladesh.”

    Beijing’s actions represent a broader pattern of seeking economic benefits in places such as Africa. I don’t think it’s a cause for alarm for the US or India.

    On a map, a Chinese-funded naval base in Sri Lanka looks like a dagger pointed directly at India. In reality, its very proximity to India would make such a base a liability in any serious conflict without substantial air defenses, command and control facilities, and hardened infrastructure, which Sri Lanka certainly cannot afford to provide. At the same time a robust base at Hambantota or anywhere else in Sri Lanka would represent a costly investment that would be unnecessary for the support of forces engaged in counter piracy patrols, peacetime presence missions, or naval diplomacy and would inflame China’s already complicated relations with India.

    Conversely, it is not in the interest of a small, developing country such as Sri Lanka to risk alienating countries – especially its northern neighbor – by bandwagoning with China.

    Not even considering the importance of its strategic proximity, size, and historical relations, India remains the top exporting country to Sri Lanka, and bilateral trade is more than three times greater than Sri Lanka’s trade with China.

    In response to suspicions over Hambantota’s potential to be a Chinese naval base, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama has provided assurance that “Hambantota Port is being constructed for commercial purposes to facilitate the Hambantota, infused with cash so that now a port, bunkering terminal, and airport will be found in the “Hambantota Development Zone.”

    We have not witnessed bandwagoning behavior, such as Sri Lanka granting exclusive basing rights to China at Hambantota.

    Given its economic, military, and diplomatic needs, Sri Lanka seeks all possible sources of external support to ensure its survival. the Sri Lankan government cancel a US$200 million Chinese ammunition shipment after the civil war, invite companies from various countries (other than China) to set up businesses in Hambantota Port, and offer to sell fuel to non-Chinese ships sailing along the main east-west shipping routes, Sri Lanka does not appear to be bandwagoning with China in the IOR. Being a developing nation, Sri Lanka takes what China offers, while also accepting what is offered by India, the United States, multilateral organizations, and any other donor to ensure its survival as a small state. Consequently, we have seen Sri Lanka be a willing recipient of economic investment for infrastructure development, military assistance to win a civil war, and diplomatic support in international forums from any country, not only China.

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