Ties with India and with China separate, says Sri Lanka

Colombo, March 7 ┬áSri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said his country’s relations with India were separate from that with China and that they did not like the way the previous regime of president Mahinda Rajapaksa was trying to “play India off against China”.

In an interview to Chennai-based Thanthi TV, Wickremesinghe said India helped Rajapaksa wipe out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009.

To a question by the TV channel about the China factor in the India-Sri Lankan ties, the Sri Lankan prime minister said: “We keep the Indo-Sri Lanka relations separate from Sino-Sri Lanka relations… Both are important for us.

“With India there is historic link. Under the Indo-Lanka agreement, both countries have agreed that they will not take any measures that will harm the security of the other country.

“So in conducting our relations with China or with other country, we keep this in mind. With this way, we are able to handle the Indo-Sri Lanka relationship separately from the Sino-Lanka relations.

“What we did not like was the attempt at the time of the Rajapaksa regime to play India off against China. Play China card with India, India card with China. That is not a wise policy. India also helped us. Without the help of India, President Rajapaksa could have not wiped out the LTTE. He got that help and he agreed to give concessions even beyond the 13th amendment…But he did not do so…,” he said.

Told by Thanthi that India has denied helping in eliminating the LTTE, Wickremesinghe replied: “Amnesia, you know is very common among politicians.”

Asked if the era of pro-China tilt was over, he said: “As I told you, we have no pro China tilt, we have no pro-India tilt.”

He said the previous Rajapaksa regime had strained relations with the West and therefore relied on China for economic assistance.

“But in our case, while we welcome Chinese investment and assistance, we will also be getting investment assistance from other countries. There won’t be a tilt as far as UNP is concerned, President Sirisena is concerned and other parties in the National government are concerned…

“As a result of how they conducted their foreign policy, there is a general feeling that Rajapaksa regime had tilted towards China.”

His comments come as India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is in Colombo to lay the ground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit next week.

Colombo has decided to suspend the $1.5 billion Colombo Port City Project with China, pending an examination of approval obtained by the Chinese project proponent.

Sri Lankan government spokesman and Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne announced in Colombo on Thursday that the cabinet had, on Wednesday, approved a proposal by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to immediately suspend implementation of the Colombo Port City Project (CPCP) being built on reclaimed land next to the Colombo harbour port.

The government is to advise the contractor China Communications Construction Company Limited (CCCC) to present, within a period of two weeks, all approvals that it had obtained from relevant institutions for implementation of the project.

Wickremesinghe had said that the CPCP had been signed without cabinet approval and following due procedure.

India has opposed part of the agreement that would give ownership of 20 hectares of land on a freehold basis to the Chinese contractor, a state owned company. India uses the Colombo Port primarily for trans-shipment purposes, said The Island.

Sirisena had announced recently that all projects entered into with China, including the CPCP, would be thoroughly re-assessed during his scheduled official visit to Beijing this month.

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