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Wickremesinghe should know: Sri Lanka has nothing to gain by declaring support to China

By NS Venkataraman* 

There appears to be a unanimous view in Sri Lanka and other countries that appointment of Ranil Wickremesinghe as President of Sri Lanka is the best decision that has happened in the present turbulent time in Sri Lanka. Ranil Wickremesinghe has served as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka six times and he has not completed full term even once and is not generally recognised as an exceptional administrator. However, he has been recognised as a reliable and decent and least controversial person by popular view and that is perhaps why governance of Sri Lanka has been handed over to him. Except a few professional demonstrators in Sri Lanka, the country is, by and large, willing to support him if he would take appropriate policy decisions and implement them in a pragmatic way. This is a good situation as far as it goes.
Obviously, the priority for Ranil Wickremesinghe is to retrieve Sri Lankan economy from the present mess, which implies that he should ensure that the morale of the countrymen are kept high by announcing time bound, proactive and well reasoned economic and industrial development plans and creating confidence about his leadership capabilities in the present challenging time.
In such situation, even the pledged admirers of Ranil Wickremesinghe felt uncomfortable, when Ranil Wickremesinghe said in Parliament that “Sri Lanka is bankrupt”, which has created huge fear amongst people. While fact is that Sri Lanka faces extremely difficult financial conditions, it has a lot of residual and basic strength which need to be highlighted and told to the people, instead of saying that the country is bankrupt. Some people wonder whether this statement of the President could reflect on his own confidence level.
Today, what Sri Lanka needs urgently is financial support by way of loan and grant from international funding agencies as well as USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and European countries. Apart from financial support at this critical juncture, Sri Lanka also needs technology support, trade support and overseas investment.
With such compulsive needs where western countries dominated funding agencies and western countries alone can come to Sri Lanka’s aid in quick time and in meaningful way, it is surprising that President Wickremesinghe made a statement that Sri Lanka is firmly committed to one China policy. This statement of the Sri Lankan President is considered as unwarranted and avoidable by many observers , as this would clearly create suspicion about the foreign policy leanings of Sri Lankan government, particularly amongst western countries.
At the present juncture, Sri Lanka has nothing to gain by declaring its support to China by committing to one China policy. At best, the President should have kept quiet on the matter.
In the family rule of Rajapaksa, there is widespread view that the Rajapaksa government has fallen into debt trap laid by China for whatever reasons and in the process, being forced to hand over the Hambentota port to China. This is a tragic mistake amounting to opening an intruder into the country. China will never give up it’s control over Hambentota port anytime in future and will have a permanent presence in Sri Lanka. The recent move of China to send spy ship to Hambentota port is an indication to the state of things to come. Though the Sri Lankan government has feebly told China to defer the ship visit, it did not have the courage to ask China to cancel the visit once for all. This approach of Sri Lanka government indicates that there is still certain level of ambiguity and uncertainty in it’s foreign policy approach.
Sri Lanka is a democratic country and it has to necessarily align itself with western countries for a stable future. It has to model it’s foreign policy in the way that countries like South Korea Philippines, Singapore, Australia and Japan have done by maintaining close alliance with western countries and all these countries have gained and prospered by such policy approach. Sri Lanka can formulate it’s foreign policy in this direction without overtly declaring so.
Development of friendly relations with western countries can only ensure sustained economic progress for Sri Lanka and enable Sri Lanka to retrieve itself from its present economic mess.
The relations with the countries like China, Russia can all be on near silent mode and without being antagonistic towards them.
In the present juncture, Sri Lanka cannot have the luxury of commenting on every international issue which really does not concern Sri Lanka. Self interest is the only policy that Sri Lanka needs today.
---
*Trustee, Nandini Voice For The Deprived, Chennai

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