The United States which shares similar interests with India also supported the idea of developing the ECT with an Indian company for the maritime future of Sri Lanka (Pic AFP)
The Government succumbed to pressure from the trade unions that resorted to strike action urging not to alienate any stake of the terminal to any external party
The development of the WTC is a project that has to be considered afresh by the Indian side. Therefore, its stand on the latest offer is yet to come
Indian High Commissioner Gopal Baglay called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardane separately on February 3. He conveyed his government’s concerns in this regard
The lack of consistency in foreign policy affairs between the two main political forces have led to irritations in Sri Lanka’s relations with the rest of the world at times. In the latest example India looked embarrassed and miffed by the government’s decision to renege from the previous regime’s commitment to develop the East Container Terminal of Colombo Port in partnership with it.
The Government succumbed to pressure from the trade unions that resorted to strike action urging not to alienate any stake of the terminal to any external party. Port workers upped the ante against the move and their call was backed by a powerful segment of the Buddhist clergy that stood by this Government right from the beginning. Also, the ruling party allies were opposed to the move. The Government felt the pinch and scrapped the plan to develop the ECT under an equity sharing arrangement with Adani Company based in Gujarat, India.
Ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections, the forces instrumental in forming this Government created a public opinion against what they called ‘alienation of national assets’. These forces, backed by a section of the opposition, stood in the way of the latest initiative by the Government. India persisted with its interests in this project in conformance with the tripartite agreement signed among Sri Lanka, Japan and India in 2019 under the previous Yahapalana Government. Obviously, the nationalist forces that formed the bedrock of public opinion in favour of the present rule, did not endorse such a policy, and the president had to give in finally no matter what the intentions were. The Government’s unilateral action caused much disenchantment to India which eyed a stake of the ECT both over economic and geostrategic reasoning. India vigorously pursues its geopolitical interests in Sri Lanka as its closest maritime neighbour. The United States which shares similar interests with India also supported the idea of developing the ECT with an Indian company for the maritime future of Sri Lanka.
The Government’s unilateral action caused much disenchantment to India which eyed a stake of the ECT both over economic and geostrategic reasoning
Sri Lanka’s decision has been taken with shock and disappointment by the Indian side which was so eager to have a stake in the Colombo Port. To pacify a miffed India, the Government of Sri Lanka decided to develop the West Container Terminal of Colombo Port jointly with India and Japan. India’s focus had always been on the ECT. The development of the WTC is a project that has to be considered afresh by the Indian side. Therefore, its stand on the latest offer is yet to come.
Indian High Commissioner Gopal Baglay called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardane separately on February 3. He conveyed his government’s concerns in this regard. He sounded particularly disturbed over the manner in which it was done.
Support at the UNHRC
Bilateral relations hit a snag at a time when Sri Lanka is looking to India for support during the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to thwart an attempt by some countries to pass a resolution once again on Sri Lanka. The core- group of countries that acts in this regard has sought to bring about a consensual resolution.
Sri Lanka is likely to take a tough, unbending stand in this regard with the support of the like-minded countries. The countries such as China and Russia have already committed their cooperation. Likewise, Indian support is crucial in keeping pressure from the western world at bay.
The United States is laying emphasis again on the human rights issues in Sri Lanka under the administration of President Joe Biden. The United States is not a member of the UNHRC this time, but its voice carries weight.
Ambassador of the United States Alaina B. Teplitz, in a virtual press conference, said that human rights, good governance, rule of law, are among her country’s enduring interests.
“We support these issues not because they are leveraged against other policy interests, but because they’re part of who we are as Americans and our enduring values as a democratic country. They’re also part of what we committed globally to the world through international agreements and our other public commitments, so we’re following through.
In that sense the Biden administration will inherit the Trump administrations’ interests in human rights in Sri Lanka. It’s been an unwavering interest and that interest is definitely going to continue. I don’t see any shift there,” she said.
The United States and Sri Lanka have differences regarding the approach to the human rights issues. Already, the Government has expressed concerns regarding the report by the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights. The new Government has to deploy its best possible diplomacy to take counter measures at the UNHRC in Geneva next month. A lobbying spree is already underway with Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardane interacting with the ambassadors and the high commissioners of the member states. India’s support is fundamental in blunting criticism emanating from the western countries. It’s yet unclear how the spat over the ECT will impact its overall relations with Sri Lanka.