In a world of international relations defined by power rivalries and shifting alliances, Sri Lanka stands resolute in its pursuit of non-interference in its foreign relations and taking a neutral approach. President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s recent statements in New York at the ‘Ocean Nations: The 3rd Annual Indo-Pacific Islands Dialogue’ on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, shed light on his foreign policy stance and commitment to safeguarding Sri Lanka’s interests above all else.
President Wickremesinghe underscored the reluctance of island nations in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific to become embroiled in the rivalry between major world powers. These nations, including Sri Lanka, focus on their own priorities—social, economic, and ecological development—and are committed to maintaining their sovereignty and independence.
What stands out prominently is President Wickremesinghe’s assertion that Sri Lanka does not align itself with any major power, be it India or China. Instead, the country’s foreign policy is rooted in being “pro Sri Lanka.”
The President’s stance on the Hambantota Port issue is commendable. He expressed concerns over the labelling of the port as a ‘Chinese military base’ asserting that it is a commercial port with security entrusted to the Sri Lanka Navy while also highlighting Sri Lanka’s cooperation with India on developing the Trincomalee harbour. It is noteworthy that the President said he would ask the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to inquire into whether there is a Chinese military base or a commercial harbour in Hambantota and clarify the matter. This demonstrates Sri Lanka’s commitment to maintaining a balance in its relationships with major powers.
He also dismissed reports of Chinese spy ships, clarifying them as research vessels operating under a longstanding agreement. On this matter, he said that Standard Operating Procedures have been set up by the Sri Lanka Navy and recently there were discussions with India and all their amendments have been taken in. He was clear that any ship that would come in now would do so under a procedure that has been done together with India. He asserted that he could not see any ship that would come in under this operating procedure being a threat to anyone.
Amidst the backdrop of great power competition, President Wickremesinghe recognizes the unique priorities of island nations, driven by domestic needs and aspirations rather than the objectives of the Quad or China’s ambitions. He said Sri Lanka is open to collaboration with partners who respect its autonomy, demonstrating a pragmatic approach to international relations.
The Indian Ocean and the South Pacific hold immense strategic value, given their historical significance. President Wickremesinghe highlighted their role in past conflicts and global power balances, underlining the imperative for Sri Lanka and other island nations to safeguard their interests.
The Indo-Pacific concept has gained recognition due to China’s rise, prompting a re-evaluation of regional dynamics and cooperation. President Wickremesinghe notes efforts to involve European powers and NATO in the Indo-Pacific have faced opposition due to their potential to undermine existing regional frameworks. President Wickremesinghe emphasized that Sri Lanka does not seek military activities in its vicinity, echoing the sentiments of most countries in the region.
President Wickremesinghe commented on the Aukus security pact between Australia, Britain, and the US, describing it as “a mistake,” and criticized it for being a military alliance aimed at China. He deems it unnecessary, reflecting a neutral stance on international affairs.
He also expresses skepticism about the term “Indo-Pacific,” referring to it as an “artificial framework.” This highlights the varying interpretations of its geographic boundaries, reflecting President Wickremesinghe’s discerning approach.
The President’s insightful analysis of the Sino-US rivalry, which has evolved from the Western Pacific into the Indian Ocean and South Pacific, raises essential questions about Sri Lanka’s role and the need to safeguard its interests amidst geopolitical shifts.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s comments in New York and Sri Lanka’s assumption of the Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) demonstrate the country’s commitment to an independent foreign policy stance. In a world marked by great power rivalries and shifting alliances, President Wickremesinghe’s approach is commendable and shows diplomatic wisdom and strategic maturity. President Wickremesinghe’s leadership on the global stage should be acknowledged as Sri Lanka navigates a complex geopolitical landscape, safeguarding its interests while advocating for regional cooperation and stability.