Sri Lanka will pursue an “omnidirectional foreign policy” that serves its own interests, not those of either of its huge neighbors, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told The Nikkei Asian Review on his recent visit to Japan.
Six months have passed since Maithripala Sirisena won a dramatic presidential election against incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose authoritarian bent, nepotism and personalisation of power contributed to his loss. Whereas the previous Government’s foreign policy hewed toward China, Sirisena is regarded as pro-India. Sri Lanka’s relations with both powers present just one challenge for Sirisena’s Government.
Soon after the election, the new Government ordered a review of plans for Colombo Port City, a Chinese-built offshore development in the commercial capital. A high-ranking Sri Lankan official has told the Chinese side that the $1.4 billion project will be restarted immediately, according to recent media reports.
“As far as I know, the project is under review,” but not because it is a Chinese investment, Samaraweera told NAR. The new Government decided to review all investments dogged by allegations of corruption or procedural improprieties, the Foreign Minister said.
The Sri Lankan economy boomed under Rajapaksa, who held office for nine years. The country saw a number of Chinese-funded construction projects of questionable financial sense, including a cricket stadium bearing his name. Rajapaksa’s Government “obviously did not assess the needs” of the country when handing out these contracts, Samaraweera said.
But Sri Lanka has always had a “close relationship” with China throughout history, he said, expressing a desire to maintain an “excellent relationship”.
Sri Lanka will join the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which the Foreign Minister said he believes will complement the Asian Development Bank.
Although relations with India will be of paramount importance to Sri Lanka’s future, the Government is “not pro-India but pro-Sri Lanka,” Samaraweera stressed.
Foreign policy is not a “zero-sum game” for the Government, he added. “We don’t want to confine ourselves to one power bloc,” He pointed out.
The post-election government will be “unique” in that the country’s two principal parties, the SLFP and the United National Party, have “agreed to work together as a government of national unity,” the Foreign Minister said.
The new Parliament and new government “will be able to work out a durable political solution which will address the grievances of the different communities of Sri Lanka and work out the new contours of a nation united in its diversity,” Samaraweera said.