- India in retaliation increased the taxes on a number of items imported from America
- Sri Lanka’s Achilles Heel has been its ethnic issue where the country’s Tamils claim that they are treated like second class citizens
- Critics point out that China is ahead of India in terms of furthering foreign business interests in Sri Lanka
- Now the Chinese Government warns Sri Lanka not to be trapped into signing State of Force Agreements
Sri Lanka is at a crossroads whether to support the USA in a trade war against China or whether to stand firm and support the rising tide created by two Asian superpowers.
Former president and Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa was a master at handing pressure from foreign nations. People had faith in this man from the south because his moves were predictable; given that his work carried the seal of patriotism. But what keeps this nation guessing is the thinking of President Sirisena which has given him that label of unpredictability.
Sirisena has sound relationships with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Modi chose Sri Lanka as the second country to visit when he mapped out his diplomatic tours after reelection. The subject of Sri Lanka is sensitive to India because of the island’s location in the maritime route and the interest this South Asian giant nation has in the Sri Lankan minority Tamils.
Moscow has always extended a friendly hand towards Sri Lanka and the two nations kept the ends warm when their heads of state met at the sidelines of the Fifth Summit of Heads of State of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and held in Tajikistan. But what Sri Lanka needs to fathom is that both India and Russia are battling wars against USA and it shouldn’t get caught in the crossfire. The USA imposed sanctions on some goods imported to Sri Lanka from Russia while it also withdrew the GSP + facility from India.
India in retaliation increased the taxes on a number of items imported from America; the Central Government of India going to the extent of raising the taxes for these goods by 120%.
But what does Sri Lanka have as a weapon if America imposes trade restrictions by withdrawing the GSP + facility?
As much as Sri Lanka needs to negotiate a three-pronged forward thrust by India, China and the USA to set foot in the island and establish bases, it needs to survive Xi Jinping’s ambitious loan traps and the One Belt, One Road initiative.
President Sirisena was blamed by critics for undertaking foreign tours at a time when the country was reeling under pressure due to the recent bomb blasts initiated by extremist Muslim terrorists. But on the other hand Sirisena was looked upon by many, several moons ago, as a head of state with little exposure to traveling and having little or no foreign allies. But now he has warm ties with Modi and Putin with Sirisena stating that it was wonderful to meet his good friend and leader of Russia, in Tajikistan, in a Tweet. The two leaders spoke about strengthening bilateral relations between the two nations and also about important regional issues. Sirisena has shown an interest in traveling and has visited nations like America, UK, China, India, Pakistan, France, Germany, Singapore, Australia and South Korea during the four and half years he has been the President of Sri Lanka. If Premier Wickremesinghe has been praised for his healthy relationships with foreign nations, Sirisena has shown his face to the world because till then he was unknown quantity.
"If Premier Wickremesinghe has been praised for his healthy relationships with foreign nations, Sirisena has shown his face to the world because till then he was unknown quantity"
Taking into account all the countries associating with Sri Lanka, the islanders must tread cautiously when dealing with India. Sri Lanka’s Achilles Heel has been its ethnic issue where the country’s Tamils claim that they are treated like second class citizens. The civil war that raged close to three decades saw human rights violations being committed by both the government security forces and terrorist rebels. Hence the Tamils in general preferring not to support the government isn’t unimaginable.
This issue is capitalised on by both India and the USA; the latter too showing a huge interest to set-up a military base here in the island. For this purpose the Trump administration uses Sri Lanka’s slow progress in setting up a programme for major reforms that’ll address issues pertaining to reconciliation, accountability and rule of the law among other things.
Adding to Sri Lanka’s woes the Tamil National Alliance, the representative of the Tamil people in the country, has made arrangements to visit Modi in India in the future. The representatives of this alliance hope to request Modi to make India intervene in the task of implementing Constitutional amendments and in the endeavor of seeking a solution to the national question. The TNA representatives also wish to make a request through Modi for the Government of India to modify the Palaly Airport. The TNA seems to think that the best time to rope in India for the Tamil cause is when ever an Indian premier has a soft corner for Tamil Nadu.
Critics point out that China is ahead of India in terms of furthering foreign business interests in Sri Lanka. The excessive loans obtained by Sri Lanka from China give us a solid picture of the net spun by the latter around the island’s administration. China is harsh in its dealings with Sri Lanka and obtained the Colombo Port on a 99-year lease when the Rajapaksa administration was struggling to repay Chinese loans. Now the Chinese Government warns Sri Lanka not to be trapped into signing State of Force Agreements with America which endanger the independence of Sr Lanka. Can Sirisena handle all this attention coming from China, India and the United States of America? As things are Sirisena might not get reelected a second time despite many among the ‘blue party’ wishing that he contests the next presidential elections, scheduled this year. Sirisena, who has said that he doesn’t wish to recontest the presidency, can still use his executive powers to influence the financial dealings that the regime led by Premier Wickremesinghe wishes to engage in. Hence Sirisena must take into heart that he leaves office making sure that he hands over a country with the least financial burden to his successor.