Calling former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s China-focussed foreign policy an “aberration” and “blunder”, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Saturday said from now on all projects in the island nation will be on Sri Lankan terms.
Assuaging India’s apprehensions about China being handed out a piece of “sovereign land” in the temporarily suspended China-funded Colombo Port City Project (PCP), Wickremesinghe said: “There will be no sovereign territory (in Sri Lanka). Whatever the Rajapaksas wanted will not happen”.
“That was an aberration. Everyone thought (Mahinda) Rajapaksa was god. (But) They did not know anything of foreign policy,” Wickremesinghe told HT, over a cup of Chinese green tea, at his official residence the Temple Trees on Saturday morning.
Overwhelming favourite Rajapaksa lost to the current President Maithripala Sirisena in a shock defeat in the Presidential election on January 8. Subsequently, Sirisena appointed Wickremesinghe – whose party, the United National Party, was the primary force behind the broad coalition that supported Sirisena – as the Prime Minister.
The Parliament, however was dissolved recently to pave the way for Parliamentary election on August 17 in which Wickremesinghe is now pitted against Rajapaksa, attempting to come back as Prime Minister as the candidate for the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA).
“We are not babes in the woods for foreign policy. I have been Prime Minister twice. They (the Rajapaksa regime) blundered. We will take their experience and get back,” the PM said when asked about the former government’s foreign policy.
When asked about the docking of Chinese submarines at the Colombo port last year, he said that that had been a decision which was based on Colombo’s then relationship with China and India; the visit of Japanese PM Shinzo Abe to Sri Lanka around that time also played a part.
“That’s a thing of the past. It was based on the relationship between China, Sri Lanka and Delhi and the arrival of the Japanese PM. Not a problem for us. For us it is a thing of the past.”
Talking about the Chinese projects in Sri Lanka, the PM said some of the agreements will be renegotiated.
“We will renegotiate. Some agreements have been signed. There is nothing we can do. The PCP will depend on the environment report. As far as we are concerned, the Chinese or anyone is welcome on our terms.”
Asked about China’s “one belt, one road” (OBOR) projects, Wickremesinghe said the focus should be on ensuring the security of sea routes in the Indian Ocean (IO) region.
“We are not a regional power. We know the value of being in the middle of the Indian Ocean. We will talk to other countries including India about maintaining security in the IO region. Whether you call it the silk road or anything else, it does not concern us. We are only concerned that the maritime routes are secured,” the PM said, adding that Sri Lanka will cooperate with the Indian navy and other navies in the region to keep the sea lanes secured.
Wickremesinghe says that what Sri Lanka is looking from India is “Friendship”. “We have had that for thousands of years.”