Sri Lanka president warns West investment needed to keep China at bay

Sri Lanka’s new president Gotabaya Rajapaksa wants “India, Japan, Singapore and Australia and other countries to also come and invest in us.” (AFP)
Updated 01 December 2019

Sri Lanka president warns West investment needed to keep China at bay

  • Gotabaya Rajapaksa: Other Asian nations would also turn to China’s giant Belt and Road infrastructure project without alternative help
  • ‘The Chinese will take the Belt and Road initiative all over unless other countries provide an alternative’

NEW DELHI: Sri Lanka’s new president Gotabaya Rajapaksa has warned India and Western nations that his country will be forced to seek finance from China again if they do not invest in the island.
Rajapaksa told the Hindu newspaper in an interview published Sunday that other Asian nations would also turn to China’s giant Belt and Road infrastructure project without alternative help.
Sri Lanka has traditionally been allied to India but became close to China, securing about $7 billion in loans and investment, when Rajapaksa’s brother Mahinda was president from 2005 to 2015.
“I want to tell India, Japan, Singapore and Australia and other countries to also come and invest in us,” said the president, who was in India this weekend on his first foreign trip since winning a presidential election on November 16.
“They should tell their companies to invest in Sri Lanka and help us grow, because if they do not, then not only Sri Lanka, but countries all over Asia will have the same (problem).
“The Chinese will take the Belt and Road initiative all over unless other countries provide an alternative.”
India has been at the forefront of nations wary of Belt and Road, fearing it will reinforce China’s military and strategic clout in the Indian Ocean region that New Delhi considers its backyard.
China has allotted hundreds of billions of dollars on the network of ports, railways, roads and industrial parks spanning Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
India’s foreign and defense ministers held talks with counterparts from Japan on Saturday in a bid to step up military cooperation.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa also confirmed that he wants to renegotiate the agreement with China about the strategic Hambantota port south of Colombo that serves the key shipping lanes between Europe and Asia.
“I believe that the Sri Lankan government must have control of all strategically important projects like Hambantota,” he said in the interview.
“The next generation will curse our generation for giving away precious assets otherwise,” he said.
Sri Lanka was forced to hand the port over to China in 2017 on a 99-year lease after the Sri Lankan government was unable to repay loans taken to build it.
India and some Western countries have raised concerns that nations who have taken Chinese loans under the Belt and Road initiative risk falling into a debt trap.
Rajapaksa said he was certain India’s government under rightwing Prime Minister Narendra Modi would move past the apprehensions it had over ties between Sri Lanka and China.
“Some of their suspicions were due to our ties with China, but that was a misunderstanding. We had a purely commercial agreement with China,” Rajapaksa said.


‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Daudzai

Updated 49 min 44 sec ago

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Daudzai

  • Pakistan played positive role in US-Taliban peace talks, says diplomat

PESHAWAR: Afghanistan’s newly appointed special envoy for Pakistan has had put “mending political relations” between the two estranged nations as one of his top priorities.

Mohammed Umer Daudzai, on Tuesday said that his primary focus would be to ensure lasting peace in Afghanistan and maintain strong ties with Pakistan, especially after Islamabad’s key role in the Afghan peace process earlier this year.

In an exclusive interview, the diplomat told Arab News: “Two areas have been identified to focus on with renewed vigor, such as lasting peace in Afghanistan and cementing Pak-Afghan bilateral ties in economic, social, political and other areas.”

In order to achieve these aims, he said, efforts would be intensified “to mend political relations” between the neighboring countries.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,600-kilometer porous border and have been at odds for years. Bonds between them have been particularly strained due to a deep mistrust and allegations of cross-border infiltration by militants.

Kabul has blamed Islamabad for harboring Taliban leaders after they were ousted from power in 2001. But Pakistan has denied the allegations and, instead, accused Kabul of providing refuge to anti-Pakistan militants – a claim rejected by Afghanistan.

Daudzai said his immediate priority would be to focus on “political reconciliation” between the two countries, especially in the backdrop of a historic peace agreement signed in February this year when Pakistan played a crucial role in facilitating a troop withdrawal deal between the US and the Taliban to end the decades-old Afghan conflict. “Afghanistan needs political reconciliation which the Afghan government has already been working on to achieve bottom-up harmony,” he added.

Daudzai’s appointment Monday by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took place days after Islamabad chose Mohammed Sadiq as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special representative for Afghanistan.

Reiterating the need to maintain strong bilateral ties with all of its neighbors, Daudzai said Pakistan’s role was of paramount importance to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has a positive role in the US-Taliban peace talks, and now Islamabad could play a highly significant role in the imminent intra-Afghan talks. I will explore all options for a level-playing field for the success of all these initiatives,” he said, referring in part to crucial peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban which were delayed due to a stalemate in a prisoner exchange program – a key condition of the Feb. 29 peace deal.

Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and around 1,000 government prisoners were to be freed by March 10. So far, Afghanistan has released 3,000 prisoners, while the Taliban have freed 500. Daudzai said that while dates had yet to be finalized, the intra-Afghan dialogue could begin “within weeks.”

He added: “A date for intra-Afghan talks hasn’t been identified yet because there is a stalemate on prisoners’ release. But I am sure they (the talks) will be kicked off within weeks.”

Experts say Daudzai’s appointment could give “fresh momentum” to the stalled process and revitalize ties between the two estranged neighbors.

“Mohammed Sadiq’s appointment...could lead Kabul-Islamabad to a close liaison and better coordination,” Irfanullah Khan, an MPhil scholar and expert on Afghan affairs, told Arab News.

Daudzai said that he would be visiting Islamabad to kickstart the process as soon as the coronavirus disease-related travel restrictions were eased.

Prior to being appointed as the special envoy, he had served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan from April 2011 to August 2013.

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