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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2867

Sri Lanka’s folly: Foreign policy of the Sirisena/Wickremasinghe regime

By Raj Gonsalkorale

In an article titled “India Will Pay a Heavy Price for Hegemony in Indian Ocean Region” posted on April 19th, 2015, Dilrook Kannangara has highlighted some key points that underpins the misplaced foreign policy direction of the new regime in Sri Lanka.

Kannangara says” When a Chinese submarine docked in Colombo for supplies, India was needlessly worried. In retaliation India regime changed the Rajapaksa administration installing a puppet regime. This follows India applying the Monroe Doctrine to dominate the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). To assist in its empire building work, India has bought an out dated Soviet aircraft carrier, modernising its military, importing weapons in record numbers and expanding its above surface and below surface military platforms in the ocean. In addition India is building choke points in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and, in Sri Lanka to harass and pressure Chinese commercial shipping. However, this needless military expansion is doing India more damage than good”.

China has now announced that its naval ships in the Indian Ocean will dock in Pakistan's Gwadar port, which has been taken over by a Chinese firm, for maintenance and replenishments after the new regime declined permission for Chinese vessels to dock in the country.

No doubt China will further strengthen its military and economic links with Pakistan and redouble its efforts to strengthen Pakistan to counter the expansionist ambitions of India. Where does this leave Sri Lanka?

Before considering the foreign policy reset of the new regime in Sri Lanka, and its long term impact on the future of the country, it is useful to consider the key points Kannangara has made in his article.

1. India is Isolated with No Land Based Trade Routes

China is building a landmark railway link to Europe and Africa which will be completed in three (3) years. This railway which comprises three different links will dramatically change trade with Europe. It cuts down transport time and cost by 55%. It opens up Central Asia which offers tremendous potential. It will complement China’s sea based Silk Road. As expansionist India militarises the peaceful Indian Ocean Region with military ambitions, other countries will join in to spoil it for all. Which nation will suffer most? India, because it has to totally depend on the Indian Ocean to get its exports to their destinations and bring in vital imports including crude oil. China can seamlessly operate.
India’s two largest state economies are Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, both coastal states relying heavily on import and export industries. If the Indian Ocean Region is militarised which complicates its security status, these economies will collapse. It may possibly lead to India’s much anticipated disintegration.

2. Pakistan Rapidly Expanding Military Power

After years of no real progress Pakistan has found new funding sources to ensure its security and the security of its vital allies. Iran’s expanding nuclear energy program has sent chills down the spine of Saudi leaders. Unable to start its own nuclear weapons program, Saudi relies on Pakistani nuclear power for defence. Therefore it is in Saudi’s best interests to ensure Pakistan maintains a strong nuclear deterrent which can be used to protect Saudi interests too without the nasty effects that come with it. This is a relationship India fears but is unable to influence.

Buoyant by foreign support, Pakistan rapidly expands its nuclear and oceanic weapons platforms. Large submarine fleet expansion is a key development. If India wants to play hard ball in the IOR, it must be ready for competition making this more difficult. With Chinese assistance Pakistan develops its Gwardar port at the Strategic Strait of Hormuz. Pakistani oceanic vessels will match Indian vessels forcing India to take on both Pakistan and China. It is a competition India cannot win.

3. Waning Russia – India’s All Weather Defence Partner

India survived for close to 70 long years thanks to unconditional support from the Soviet Union and Russia. Highly lethal weapons and their world class technology found their way to India cheaply and at times free. It was a tremendous boon for a poor nation like India. However, Russia’s conventional weapons industry has lost its glamour. Now it is nothing more than ordinary and certainly not world class. China has rapidly caught on. To face this expanding deficiency, India has to rely on western weapons which are at least ten times more expensive than Russian weapons. Unlike generous Russia, India is not getting technology transfer from western nations.
India’s gradual rapprochement with the west has Russia doubting Indian intentions. As a result Russia is now reaching out to Pakistan and China which it shunned until now due to Indian requests.

4. Panic Stricken India Making Wrong Choices

Panic is taking its toll on India. Its panicky decisions make it worse for India. Out of panic India installed a puppet regime in Sri Lanka, tries to interfere in Nepal, Maldives and Myanmar. Unknown to Indian think tanks, this is driving more and more nations against it. Other powerful Asian nations with commercial interests in mind are now forced to look at the military option to contain India.

Indian interference in Vietnam against China is causing it more harm than good. Tit for tat manoeuvres against China will not take India anywhere as its economy is barely one fourth of China’s.

Indian policy makers must realise panic driven strategies and hegemony make more enemies and no friends. Inevitable disintegration of India is a certainty which can be averted only by focusing on its poor which is the world’s largest. Playing second fiddle to USA is not going to save India as Pakistan learnt the hard way in its war against India.

Besides what Kannangara has highlighted, it is useful for readers to appreciate the relative economic strengths of the USA and India combine that the new Sri Lankan regime is courting at the expense of China.

Firstly, the total foreign reserves comprise holdings of monetary gold, special drawing rights, reserves of IMF members held by the IMF, and holdings of foreign exchange under the control of monetary authorities. The gold component of these reserves is valued at year-end (December 31) London prices. Data are in current U.S. dollars (millions) and as per the rankings given, China is number 1, India, number 9 and the USA number 19.

Even if Japan, which has the second highest foreign reserves (1,245,316)are added to that of India and the USA, China’s reserves outstrip the total of Japan, USA and India by a staggering 2, 187,778 Trillion US Dollars.
Looking at a country’s external reserves is meaningless unless one considers its foreign debt. The following table shows external debt (total public and private debt) owed to nonresidents repayable in foreign currency, goods, or services. These figures are calculated on an exchange rate basis.


19country Debt - external Date of Information
1 European Union $ 15,950,000,000,000 31 December 2012 est.
2 United States $ 15,680,000,000,000 31 December 2012 est.
3 United Kingdom $ 9,577,000,000,000 31 December 2012 est.
4 Germany $ 5,717,000,000,000 31 December 2012 est.
5 France $ 5,371,000,000,000 31 December 2012 est.
6 Japan $ 3,017,000,000,000 31 December 2012 est.
7 Luxembourg $ 2,935,000,000,000 31 December 2012 est.
8 Italy $ 2,604,000,000,000

31 December 2013 est.

9 Netherlands $ 2,347,000,000,000

31 December 2013 est.

10 Spain $ 2,278,000,000,000

31 December 2012 est.

11 Ireland $ 2,164,000,000,000

31 December 2012 est.

12 Switzerland $ 1,544,000,000,000

31 December 2012 est.

13 Australia $ 1,506,000,000,000

31 December 2013 est.

14 Belgium $ 1,424,000,000,000

31 December 2012 est.

15 Canada $ 1,331,000,000,000

31 December 2012 est.

16 Singapore $ 1,174,000,000,000

31 December 2012 est.

17 Hong Kong $ 1,159,000,000,000

31 December 2013 est.

18 Sweden $ 1,039,000,000,000

31 December 2012 est.

19 China $ 863,200,000,000

31 December 2013 est.

As per the Department Of Economic Affairs, External Debt Management Unit of the Ministry of Finance of the Union Government of India report of MARCH 2015, at end-December 2014, India’s external debt stock stood at US$ 461.9 billion, showing an increase of US$ 15.5 billion (3.5 per cent) over the level at end-March 2014. India’s external debt to GDP ratio stood at 23.2 per cent at end-December 2014 vis-à-vis 23.7 per cent at end-March 2014.

From the above data, and taking into account external reserves and external debt, it is clear that China has the highest NET wealth of any country in the world today, while the USA and India, whose foreign policy dictates are being followed by the new regime in Sri Lanka, are both NET debtors. It is also interesting to see the debt levels and external reserves of other Western countries aligned to the USA/India combine and wonder why Sri Lanka is attempting to throw their lot with countries so much in debt while ignoring the one country which has such a colossal net wealth.

Sri Lanka must surely consider why the USA and the West, through its surrogate India, wishes to distance Sri Lanka from China.

Firstly, there is no doubt that India has that as a priority considering the historical enmity and suspicion between India and China, and the economic and military factors that Indian policy makers think are inimical to their interests should Sri Lanka become a close ally of China.

Secondly, the USA/West combine very likely views India as their cushion against Chinese economic and military ambitions and supremacy. Supporting India rather than opposing Sri Lanka therefore has become the imperative for this combine. Whatever this combine does to tighten their hold on Sri Lanka should therefore be viewed as being something of joint strategic interest against a common “enemy”, China, the emerging super power of the world unless thwarted by this combine and India.

The general public of Sri Lanka should make note without any doubt or ambiguity that (a) it is India that dictates the foreign policy settings of Sri Lanka under the Sirisena/Wickremasinghe regime, (b) that the USA/West combine is part of this axis, and (c) the previous Rajapaksa regime was changed by this axis due to its desire to forge close economic ties with China, which could have led to close military ties as well.

Chinese economic and military superiority over India is no secret, and it is due to grow exponentially in years to come. China’s thirst for natural resources is also tipped to grow very significantly, and it is also no secret that they are investing in regions and country’s with rich natural resources (Africa and Australia for example), and they are investing in transport routes and the security of transport routes (the Maritime Silk Route, in which Sri Lanka, along with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar feature as key strategic locations) and land based routes like the landmark railway link to Europe and Africa.

Sri Lanka no doubt is caught between a hard place and a rock whichever way it looks at in relation to this big power rivalry. The India, USA/West axis however is not likely or will be able to match the investment potential of China and they are more likely to follow the pithy Sinhala saying “Pahakata beela, Panahakata Natanawa” (Drink for Five rupees but dance as if you have drunk for Fifty rupees), meaning, this axis will spend the minimum but shout the maximum to keep Sri Lanka throttled and beholden to them in international trade and in international arena’s like the UNHRC.

Contrary to this, China, as they had demonstrated during the Rajapaksa regime, will be able to do the reverse of the Sinhala saying and drink for fifty but dance for five, with no shouting against Sri Lanka from international rooftops.

Although one refers to the current regime as the Sirisena/Wickremasinghe regime, it is in fact a Kumaratunga/Wickremasinghe regime with a subservient and inexperienced Sirisena doing the bidding of these two political leaders.

This regime has reset Sri Lanka’s foreign policy towards a new frontier of confrontation where the main adversary is the richest country in the world, and very soon the most powerful economic and military power in the world. This reset surely cannot be in Sri Lanka’s interest as the lot of its citizens will not improve unless its economy improves. The post war period of the Rajapaksa regime saw a huge economic resurgence and had that thrust continued, Sri Lankan’s would have enjoyed the dividends of the investments in years to come.

Currently, Sri Lanka is languishing with all if not most of the massive projects commenced by the previous regime at a standstill with hundreds and thousands of people left without employment. Sri Lanka’s economic engine is running on fuel pumped by the previous regime with no new fuel pumped in after the 8th of January 2015.

Sri Lanka’s economic engine cannot run indefinitely without new fuel and the country’s foreign policy needs to look at where the money is, not where the mouth is.

- Asian Tribune -

Sri Lanka’s folly: Foreign policy of the Sirisena/Wickremasinghe regime
Sri Lanka’s folly: Foreign policy of the Sirisena/Wickremasinghe regime
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