Ties with India and China separate but equally important

ranil 3The Government of Sri Lanka sees both India and China as important allies, but interacts and deals with them separately, said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe.

In an interview to Thanthi TV, Prime Minister Wickremasinghe said Friday, “We keep the Indo-Sri Lanka relations separate from the Sino-Sri Lanka relations… Both are important for us. With India, there is a 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 Rajapaksa regime to play India off against China. Play the China card with India, (and the) 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,” Wickremasinghe added.

The Sri Lankan Prime Minister further went on to say that India did help his country in the civil war against the LTTE, and rather humorously said that those in denial of this fact, were suffering from selective amnesia.

When asked specifically to respond to the view that India has been categorically denying its role in the war against the LTTE, Wickremasinghe said, “Yes… certainly (they did have a role). Amnesia, you know is very common among politicians.”

Asked to respond to the perception that the previous regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa was largely in tilt towards China, Wickremasinghe first reaction was, “As I told you, we have no Pro china tilt; we have No Pro India tilt.”

When specifically asked why the previous government had a pro-China tilt, he said “Because they had a strained relations with the West. They relied on china for all the 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 the 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 the Rajapaksa regime had tilted towards China.”

Commenting to China’s involvement in the USD 1.5 billion Port city project and the government’s move to suspend it temporarily because it had some doubts about it, Prime Minister Wickramasinghe said, “No doubt. I’m the first person to raise the Port city in the Parliament… I asked for the reports. Now, we have appointed a committee to go into the port city and to make a report. Depending on the outcome of the report, we will decide what our measures are going to be. But once we get the report, we will also give a copy of it to the Chinese Government and then commence discussion.”

When asked whether Colombo is seriously considering plans to scrap the project, he said, “I still think if the report is adverse, then the project should be scrapped.If the report is adverse, we have to scrap it. But then, we want to hear all parties. My contention on the report has not been tabled… Hear all the parties and then take a decision.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that the Government of Sri Lanka and its people are eagerly looking forward to Prime MInister Narendra Modi’s visit to the island-nation next week.

Mr Wickremesinghe said that he was quite satisfied with the heightened level of bilateral engagement between New Delhi and Colombo, and added that his government had absolutely no problem with Prime Minister Modi’s plans to visit any part of the country, including Jaffna and Kandy, as also to his plans to interact with Tamil population of Sri Lanka.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe  said that it was his view that the previous regime of President Mahinda Rajapaksa was crowding the democratic space in the island-nation, and therefore, steps and plans were initiated to remove it once snap presidential polls were announced for January 8, 2015.

He also said he did not see the coming together of different opposition parties to form a National Government at the Centre as a disparate political arrangement, and added that having a Sri Lanka Freedom Party leader as president or a UNP leader as Prime Minister or ministers from parties that have been opposing each other in elections consecutively, as much of a problem.

“I like all the parties to get together. As I said in Sinhalese, I want to make the whole parliament a government. One group will be the ministers and deputy ministers, the rest of them will become the oversight Committee. Like the European Parliament or the American Congress, exercising powers of oversight over the government. Therefore, the chairman of the Oversight committee will also be a powerful political figure,” he added.

On the fishermen issue, As far as I’m concerned, I have very very strong lines. These are our waters…Fishermen of Jaffna should be allowed to fish. We stopped them from fishing, which is why the Indian fishermen came in. They are willing to have a deal…Let’s have a reasonable deal… But not at the expense of the income of the Northern Fishermen,” Prime Minister Wickremasinghe said

He said that the issue was between the fishermen of both nations and thus had to be worked out between the two parties. He, however, was adamant that Indian fishermen could not be allowed to trawl.

(Inputs Thanthi TV and ANI)

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