Posted on May 13th, 2016

Editorial Courtesy Ceylon Today

It was reported that President Maithripala Sirisena will visit India today. Accordingly, the President is expected to attend a number of functions organized by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), during his tour. Thereafter, the President will be meeting Narendra Modi to hold discussions pertaining to the fisheries issues affecting both countries.

President Sirisena’s second visit to India takes place at a very crucial moment. At this juncture, Sri Lanka needs to be very cautious about diplomatic relations. Balancing the act does not seem to be that easy given the government has to deal with a few super powers and regional powers, simultaneously. The government needs to keep a close relationship with China, though they criticized the previous regime for making attempts turn the country into a cat’s paw State of China. The recent visit of the Prime Minister to China and his statements, proposing to turn Chinese debt into equity, imply stronger Chinese presence in the island nation.

Further, the Premier assured that the construction of Chinese funded Port City, which has huge geopolitical significance, will be resumed. The question is how the government hopes to deal with the regional power India, in its response to the Chinese presence in Sri Lanka.
Already, there are news reports indicating the enhancement of the Indian presence in Sri Lanka. The government has been firm on signing the Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) despite strong public pressure against it.

The Indian Highways Minister seems very confident about constructing the Hanuman Bridge, connecting Sri Lanka and India. The discussions are going on regarding the Sampur Power Plant in spite of the concerns raised. All these acts are directly related to the relations with India and crucial decisions on these matters are likely to be made during the President’s visit to India.
It is interesting to see how the Sri Lankan leader would deal with the big brother during his upcoming visit. A lot of bargaining will have to be done. India, being the regional power and the big brother of Sri Lanka, would definitely try to dominate the discussions. It is likely that India could come up with proposals that would help to override the Chinese presence. Therefore, this diplomatic visit would be a milestone of diplomatic relations between the two countries. It is in that context the President will have to find the optimal solution which would help to remain in the good books of the big brother while not compromising the national interest of the island nation to promote the national interest of India to enhance its regional power.
Dealing with a country like India is not easy. Sri Lanka being a small State makes it more difficult. However, that does not mean that dealing with India and ensuring the national interest of the country is impossible. Though ensuring the national interest did not succeed every time, leaders like Sirimavo Bandaranaike and R. Pemadasa did it. They stood by their stance. Circumstances at that time were tougher than at present, but both those leaders knew when to hit and when to remain silent.
British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill had once said, diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions. The President will have to be very diplomatic during his visit. He may have to tell India to go to hell when they come up with certain proposals. Yet, it has to be done in Churchill’s way. Whether the present government has that capability and will be able to ensure a win-win situation for the country, while protecting the national interest, will be seen subsequent to the Indian visit of the President.

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