Spooked by China’s growing presence Lanka to adopt ‘India first approach’

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PTI

Colombo

Sri Lanka will adopt an “India first approach” as its new foreign policy plank and protect New Delhi’s strategic security interests, the country’s Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage has said as he sought to allay concerns amid China’s growing presence in the island nation.

Admiral Colombage became the first-ever foreign secretary from a military background when he was appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to head the Foreign Ministry on August 14.

In an interview published by Daily Mirror on Wednesday, Colombage said Sri Lanka is to adopt an ‘India first approach’ as its new regional foreign policy plank.

“That means Sri Lanka will not do anything harmful to India’s strategic security interests,” said Colombage, who was the chief of the Sri Lanka Navy between 2012-14 and later became a foreign policy analyst mostly on the Chinese initiatives in Sri Lanka and the immediate region.

Colombage said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would have an India first approach as the key to strategic security.

“China is the second-largest economy and India is considered the sixth-largest. In 2018 India was the world’s fastest-growing economy. That means we are between two economic giants,” he said.

“Sri Lanka cannot afford, should not afford and will not afford any particular country to use it as a staging area to do anything against another country – especially so India,” he said.

Commenting on the Chinese investment in the southern port of Hambantota, Colombage says that Sri Lanka had offered India Hambantota first.

“India did not undertake it for whatever reason, then it went to a Chinese company,” he said.

“Now we have given 85 per cent stake of Hambantota port to China Merchant Holding Company. That should be limited to commercial activities. It is zero for military purposes,” he said.

Colombage said that despite opposition from port worker trade unions, President Rajapaksa would go ahead with the memorandum of cooperation signed with India on the Colombo Port’s Eastern terminal.

Colombo Port is the largest and busiest port in Sri Lanka. Located on the southwestern shores on the Kelani River, it serves as an important terminal in Asia due to its strategic location in the Indian Ocean.