THE POHOTTUWA GOVERNMENT OF SRI LANKA Part 2 C12
Posted on January 26th, 2021

KAMALIKA PIERIS

On account of its strategic location, Sri Lanka is a key battleground of geopolitical rivalry, said Asoka Bandarage.  Sri Lanka is now in the crosshairs of dangerous power games among the big powers, said Lasanda Kurukulasuriya.

Sri Lanka must pursue an independent foreign policy, said Palitha Kohona. It must protect the territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence and economic advancement of Sri Lanka. We must maintain good relationships with USA, China and India, but that should not mean we should sacrifice our independence, Kohona said. We need an effective foreign policy, which ensures our security, safeguards our territorial integrity and sovereignty, said Sudarshan Seneviratne.

Pohottu has announced its foreign policy. As a sovereign, free, independent nation, Sri Lanka’s foreign policy will remain neutral and non-aligned, declared Pohottu. Sri Lanka will maintain friendly relations with all countries. Sri Lanka‘s relations with one country will be absolutely independent of ties with another country. Also, Sri Lanka will not give total control of a national strategic asset, port, airport or anything, to a foreign country, concluded Pohottu.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s declaration to conduct foreign policy without compromising the country’s independence and sovereignty is praiseworthy. Though a small nation, in saying so, he has upheld Sri Lanka’s dignity, said critics.

But this will not be easy. US is wooing Sri Lanka and asking Sri Lanka to join US in the next war. The alarmed intelligentsia have now started to look for ways of getting out of the awful possibility of getting entangled in a US-China war started by USA.

The best solution for getting out of this dilemma would be to return to Non-Alignment, they said. National Joint Committee of Sinhala Organizations said,We believe that Sri Lanka should follow a foreign policy of Non-alignment.’ Sri Lanka   should follow a non aligned position, said Palitha Kohona.

We should recover our earlier position in the NAM,as a pioneer of the Non-Aligned Movement.  Some senior NAM diplomats still have sympathetic feelings towards Sri Lanka, Kohona concluded. As a small state without a large military, Sri Lanka should adhere to a strict non-aligned foreign policy in its relations with great powers, said Ganeshan Wignaraja.

That may not be possible, said critics. With the signing of ACSA, we are no longer non-aligned, announced Tamara Kunanayagam. A military alliance already exists between the US and Sri Lanka. The ACSA Agreement, signed by the Yahapalana government is still in force. Pohottu has not made any changes to it, said Tissa Vitarana.

By signing ACSA in 2007, and renewing it in 2017, Sri Lanka has committed its strategic entry points, ports and airports, as well as our armed forces, our military installations, food, oil, and spare parts, to the US for its war against China, said Tamara Kunanayagam. 

The ACSA agreement also provides for the training of Sri Lankan troops by the USA and their use when necessary. Thus, without actually setting up a USA military base in Sri Lanka, those needs can be fulfilled through the ACSA agreement, said Tissa Vitarana.

ACSA allows the USA to make use of any airport or harbor in Sri Lanka. Thus, the USA can continue to make use of Katunayake for its big transport planes to bring its heavy armaments and take them across to Trincomalee to be loaded on to their aircraft carriers for use in the whole Indo-Pacific region, continued Vitarana.

After ACSA Sri Lanka will be asked to help in implementing the Indo-Pacific policy of USA. Sri Lanka will have to work with India, Australia, Japan and the USA. The link between India and Sri Lanka will be strengthened and the needs of the USA will be achieved through this route, concluded Vitarana. It is now known that Indian Prime Minister Modi has asked Sri Lanka to join the Quad.

The joint military exercises of Sri Lanka with India and the USA are going on. There are regular defence dialogues, Navy exercises and training in India for the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka have agreed to establish a Regional Maritime Security Secretariat (RMSS) in Colombo, staffed by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence personnel, to coordinate all aspects of maritime security between the three countries.    If this is encouraged, we will become a part of the Indo-Pacific Alliance which is mainly focused against China.

The terminology use by Pohottu has come in for criticism. Pohottu also says its foreign policy will be determined by India First”.  Since India has militarily aligned with the US, what does ‘India first’ mean asked critics.

During the recent visit of the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Pohottu is stated to have reiterated its commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific”. Now that’s one heavily coded expression for war against China, said Tamara.  

Further, Sri Lanka’s commitment to America’s Indo-Pacific” strategy is a violation of the United Nations Charter and of the principles of the Non-Aligned Movement. It is a commitment to war, not a commitment to peace, Tamara added.  In fact, there is no such thing as an ‘Indo-Pacific’, Tamara concluded.

Sri Lanka wants to maintain its neutrality and does not wish to be caught up in the major power games, said Jayanath Colombage.  Analysts    are doubtful. What does ‘neutrality’ in foreign policy actually mean, they asked.  Staying neutral can mean tacit approval, said Tissa Vitarana.     ‘Neutrality’ and ‘non alignment’ do not go together either, said Tamara Kunanayagam.

Pohottu has found another escape route. Sri Lanka wants to revert to UN Declaration on the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace. President Rajapaksa wants to see Indian Ocean a Zone of peace.  As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, Indo-Pacific” is too big for us, even the Indian Ocean is too big for us since we are a small country, said Jayanath Colombage.

 The Sri Lankan government should ensure that the UN Declaration on the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peacebe implemented immediately. This is a declaration which Sri Lanka itself initiated, said Tissa Vitarana  on behalf of LSSP.

However, there are no Indian Ocean organizations based in Colombo, though Colombo is the centre of the Indian Ocean. The Secretariats of Indian Ocean Rim association (IORA) and the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) are located in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius. India established the Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean (IFC-IOR) making the Sri Lanka Maritime Rescue Co-coordinating Centre (MRCC) insignificant, taking away any Indian Ocean role for Sri Lanka.  

Sri Lanka is now   wooed by three countries, US, India and China.  Colombo has witnessed heightened engagement from Beijing, New Delhi and Washington over the past few months.

Yang Jiechi , Chinese former Foreign Minister and current Politburo member visited in October 2020. Mike Pompeo , US Foreign Minister, visited in November. Then came Ajith Doval,  India’s National Security Advisor. Indian Foreign Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar visited  in January 2021.

Other countries area also interested. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is expected to lead a high-level delegation to Sri Lanka In February 2021. There were also visits from the Foreign Ministers of Russia, Japan and Pakistan.

This  series of high-level visits to Sri Lanka, especially those of    US, China and India, would indicate, even to a layman, the existence of real and competing interests of these nations in Sri Lanka. It will require great determination to ensure that we are not drawn into a position of conflict with China, said Tissa Vitarana.

One solution, at least on paper, is to  turn to other countries,   avoiding  US. We believe in multiple alignments instead of a singular alignment with a particular country said Colombage. Sri Lanka  should establish good relations with countries other than the USA,  said the intelligentsia. I think that the government should  now seek new allies said Chandraprema in his column ‘Political Watch ‘

There are other countries to turn to, we are not without  friends  said K Godage.  We have other friends, he said. We have close relations with Iran and Russia in addition to China.  China, Iran and even Libya would give us aid without humiliating conditions.    Iran has been helpful, not only with military supplies but also with interest free loans. Iran also supplied us with our crude oil requirements, continued Godage.

During the Eelam war some countries not only rejected Sri Lanka’s request for arms but also prevented aircraft carrying urgently needed item from flying over their airspace. Western bloc countries, particularly UK US France, Germany threatened to reduce their aid. But Sri Lanka did not yield to their demands. Instead Sri Lanka persuaded other countries to provide it with military assistance. Russia, Poland, China, Israel, Pakistan, Japan, India and Czech Republic helped.

Russia, Pakistan and China gave military assistance. Pakistan gave arms. And sent its military officials to advise on counter insurgency tactics. Russia provided military hardware, as well as much required training.  When US stopped selling Bushmaster guns to Sri Lanka, we were able to get our guns from Russia. Poland agreed to allow its port to be used to ship the material.

The support of China and Russia means support at the UN. China and Russia have seats in the UN Security Council and they both have power   of veto. If the US reduced its contribution to the UN, then Russia and China would step in. China and Russia supported Sri Lanka at UNHRC in Geneva.  If not for China, Pakistan and Russia, Sri Lanka would have been isolated in Geneva during the Rajapaksa administration, said Shamindra Ferdinando. 

Moscow now had the upper hand in Syria, Ukraine and Libya. Gwynne Dyer said it is difficult to describe Russia’s current political style. It is certainly not a democracy, although there are regular elections. It’s definitely not Communist, although most of the regime’s senior figures were Communists before Russia started on its capitalist path. It’s not a monarchy, although Putin behaves like one. He has been in power for twenty years and is surrounded by a court of extremely rich allies and cronies.

 What is important for Sri Lanka is that Russia is a rising power and it is prepared to stand by Sri Lanka. In December 2020, Russian Ambassador declared Russia’s firm support to Sri Lanka at the upcoming UNHRC sessions in Geneva in March 2021, and to defeat any motion filed at the forum by interested parties and Tamil Diaspora lobbies. Russia was now a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Ambassador urged Sri Lanka to participate in two International Security forums to be held in Russia in the summer of 2021.

The Russian Ambassador said in December 2020 that the Sputnik V vaccine manufactured by the world famous Gamaleya Research Institute in Moscow to counter the COVID-19 pandemic is to be sent to Sri Lanka. A Memorandum of Understanding and Framework Agreement have been signed between the two countries for its distribution. There is also a plan to partner this vaccine with the Oxford University/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to boost immunity further. (Continued)

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