Neutral Foreign Policy at work | Daily News

Neutral Foreign Policy at work

Trinco Oil Tank deal with India and economic cooperation with China:
Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi opening the Marina Promenade of the Colombo Port City with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi opening the Marina Promenade of the Colombo Port City with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Sri Lanka scored another notch in its successful neutral foreign policy of friendship with all. While underlining the desire to keep out of regional power rivalry, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa last week managed to restore trust and confidence of two Asian powers – China and India – and ensured their continuous close economic cooperation with our country.

On January 9 Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi, who is a member of the powerful State Council concluded a successful visit to Sri Lanka. His meeting with President Rajapaksa resulted in a series of agreements on economic cooperation between China and Sri Lanka as the two countries heralded the celebration of the 65th year of diplomatic ties.

Much to the satisfaction of Sri Lanka the discussions gave a fresh fillip to its strong and long-standing bilateral ties with Sri Lanka requesting for rescheduling of debt, credit for import of raw material from China and increase tourists via a bio-bubble, and China expressing continuous support.

Both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa joined Wang Yi when he officiated at the ceremonial opening of the Port City’s Marina Promenade, which can be patronised by the public.

President Rajapaksa told Minister Yi that it would be a great relief to the country if attention could be paid on restructuring the debt repayments as a solution to the economic crisis that has arisen in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. He added that if a concessional trade credit scheme could be initiated for imports from China, it would enable the industries to operate smoothly.

Recalling the profound friendship between the two countries, Minister Wang Yi said that he was pleased to be back in Sri Lanka and that China would always support Sri Lanka as a close friend.

Oil Tank deal with India

Last week’s highlight was not only on China. Sri Lanka also smoothened ruffled feathers of Indo-Lanka friendship. The Sri Lankan Cabinet has approved the development of Trincomalee Tank Farms jointly with India.

Indian media hailed the pact, describing it as a ‘glimmer of hope in the India Sri Lanka relationship under the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government, economic and energy security deals are being struck with India’.

The Trinco oil farm comprises 99 huge oil storage tanks of British era vintage. The deal is with Indian Oil Corporation, which will hold a minority stake, while Ceylon Petroleum Corporation will be the majority partner. The deal is in three phases, the first is to modernise 61 of the 100 farm tanks.

Indian analysts said “Given the proximity of Trincomalee to India, the country was keen to win this deal,” the premier newspaper The Hindu stated. Arindam Bagchi, Spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs said the deal will benefit both countries. Bagchi, a former Indian deputy High Commissioner in Colombo, said the Trinco oil tank agreement between India and Sri Lankan will allow for storage of fuel and augment bilateral energy security.

Another leading newspaper, Deccan Herald said decades of Indian diplomatic efforts have finally borne fruit with India signing three agreements with the Sri Lanka government on jointly developing the Trincomalee oil tank farm.

The oil tank farm will be managed by a 51-49% joint venture between Ceylon Petroleum Complex and Indian Oil Corporation’s Lankan subsidiary. The agreement will strengthen India-Sri Lanka economic cooperation, help boost India’s energy security, and provide it a presence in an area of high strategic value. The Deccan Herald commented that the once-warm India-Sri Lanka relationship has been turbulent in recent years as Colombo assiduously courted China and the new deal in Trincomalee would put the economic relationship between India and Sri Lanka back on track. The Indian newspaper says, “Sri Lanka, while playing a balancing act with China, might have realised after the Hambantota Port experience that it might not be such a good idea to be reliant on Chinese investments in critical areas. The Sri Lankan Cabinet has approved the development of Trincomalee Tank Farms jointly with India. The deal is in three phases, the first is to modernise 61 of the 100 farm tanks. Given the proximity of Trincomalee to India, the country was keen to win this deal, as having another partner, especially China, was not the best of situations.”

Indian spokesman says the development is positive for India. Earlier, Sri Lanka cancelled a solar power project with a Chinese firm because India voiced security concerns. India will in no way be able to be the sole provider of economic and energy security to Sri Lanka. For Sri Lanka, however, to understand India's concerns, and also, to not put all its eggs in the Chinese basket, makes sound sense for the country, too. Sri Lanka has approved a bid by Ashok Leyland for 500 new buses and by Mahindra and Mahindra for 750 jeeps for its Police Force, The Hindu pointed out.

Neighbourhood First Policy

Deccan Herald, quoting Bagchi, said that Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa last month briefed India on Sri Lanka’s economic situation. “India has always stood by the Sri Lankan people and Sri Lanka is an important part of our Neighbourhood First Policy. During the visit, discussions took place on deepening cooperation in areas of food and health security, energy security, the balance of payment issues and Indian investments in Sri Lanka, among others. I understand that further consultations are ongoing,'' External Affairs Spokesman said.

India’s credit line to Sri Lanka also produced good results. Last Sunday the railways launched an inter-city train service from Colombo to Kankasanthurai, using the Diesel Multiple Units procured from India, highlighting two key pillars of New Delhi's development partnership with the island nation -- infrastructure development and countrywide focus.

“Powering Sri Lanka railway infrastructure forward!! The train service launched today to the Northern Province highlights 2 key pillars of Flag of India's development partnership with #lka - infrastructure development and countrywide focus,” the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka tweeted. The launch ceremony was attended by Transport Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi and India’s Deputy High Commissioner Vinod K Jacob. “Another significant landmark in India-Sri Lanka ties! Hon'ble Minister @pavithrawannia1 inaugurated the AC Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) supplied by @RITESLimited under an Indian credit line & launched the train service from Mt.Lavinia to KKS. She undertook the inaugural ride & was welcomed,” the Indian High Commission said in another tweet. “This train service will facilitate people-to-people exchange and will lay emphasis on mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries,” Jacob said.

Minister Wanniarachchi thanked the Indian Government for its continued support to Sri Lanka in tackling the ongoing pandemic.

Eastern India’s popular Odisha TV said the launching of this mutually beneficial cooperation that facilitates people to people exchanges took place at Colombo's main railway station while elsewhere in the capital, Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and assured "China will continue to do its best to provide all the necessary help and support to Sri Lanka".

The luxurious AC DMUs train supplied under an Indian Line of Credit by Rail India Technical and Economic Service (RITES) would help facilitate quicker travel between the Western Province and the Northern Province. "The supply of AC DMUs is just one of the many Railway projects being undertaken by India in Sri Lanka. There are also other ongoing projects, which include supply of passenger coaches by RITES under an Indian Line of Credit. Another Indian Company, IRCON is executing a project for Up-gradation of railway tracks between Maho-Anuradhapura-Omanthai.

Deccan Herald says, while India can draw satisfaction from the Trincomalee deal, the India-China contest for influence in Colombo will only intensify.

However the government of President Rajapaksa proved during the last two years that the prime objective is to ensure national interest and economic benefits to the country and the people in any deal with either global or regional powers. The two agreements with China and India last week found all doomsayers wrong and President Gotabaya’s foreign policy has triumphed once again.

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