Sri Lanka-India ties at high point – Professor G.L. Peiris

G.L. Peiris

In an interview to The Indian Express, Sri Lanka’s foreign minister G. L. Peiris said India and Sri Lanka had reached a high point in their relations, and that concerns about the Chinese presence in his country had been “consigned to the past”.

Peiris, who was in Delhi from February 6-8, said the fishermen’s issue – Indian fishermen trespassing in Sri Lankan waters and getting arrested – was now a “serious” flashpoint in ties with India.

He also blamed the Tamil National Alliance for the “hiatus” in the implementation of the 13th Amendment because of its support to the previous Maithripala Sirisena government’s decision to change electoral laws.

Read excerpts of the interview below:

Thank you for doing this interview, Mr Peiris. What introduced you to New Delhi?

We need to take inventory of the present scenario, consolidate the achievements which have already been made with regard to remodeling the character of the connection, elevating it from a transactional stage to strategic partnership.

What components are you making an attempt to place in place with the intention to elevate it to a strategic relationship?

The foremost factor is a realisation in each international locations that nearer integration of the financial system of India and Sri Lanka is of mutual profit to each.. For instance, ports and harbours are each essential for us. We need to develop Colombo and Hambantota as a transshipment hub, digital hub, manufacturing hub and so forth.

More than 70 per cent of that is transshipment is from or to India. So, India is pivot and lots of the Indian ports are Adani-owned, Adani-connected. The dredging work on the West Container Terminal [of Colombo Port, being developed by India’s Adani group, after Colombo cancelled a previous agreement with India for developing the East Container Terminal, subsequently handed over to China] will start within the subsequent two or three months and the important thing participant is Adani. There is little doubt that larger connectivity with Indian ports is completely important.

The similar is true of the electrical energy sector. Third is oil petroleum and fuel. India is the world’s third largest client of oil. It will likely be potential for Sri Lanka to safe oil at extra aggressive and decrease charges, if we act along with India moderately than in isolation. Recently the Tricomalee oil tank farm transaction [with India] was accomplished. You’re speaking 99 tanks – the storage capability is beneficial for India and for Sri Lanka as a result of when the world market costs are low we are able to buy oil and retailer it.

Then there’s Indian funding in tourism. One third of the vacationers who come into Sri Lanka are from India and there’s the Ramayana prepare which we’re engaged on that thrilling idea. And we hope to develop about 52 potential tourism websites to draw extra Indian vacationers and odd vital Indian funding into the hospitality sector.

Also prescribed drugs. In Sri Lanka we’ve got three funding zones for the manufacturing of prescribed drugs. We are already producing saline to be used in Sri Lanka. There’s additionally a marketplace for pharmaceutical merchandise made in Sri Lanka, within the Maldives in East Africa. Indian corporations have a really substantial substantial experience in pharmaceutical manufacturing. So, it’s a promising space for Indian funding. There’s additionally meals processing cement.

Did these particular sectors determine in your conversations right here in Delhi?

I had an in depth assembly with [External Affairs Minister] Dr. S. Jaishankar yesterday (February 7), and we mentioned all these potential areas for collaboration. Now {that a} sturdy basis has been laid, we mentioned intimately a few of what we may do additional collectively for mutual benefit. And I adopted up in the present day with a really fruitful dialogue with the nationwide safety adviser Shri Ajit Doval. We have mentioned specifics about the place we’re and the way we proceed additional.

Can you present some extra perception into these specifics?

The underpinning is a elementary consideration that people- to- individuals connectivity is in the present day very sturdy between the 2 international locations. There are a number of Memoranda of Understanding within the pipeline, considered one of which has to do with $15 million fund which Prime Minister Modi has arrange for the event of Buddhist temples, the event of the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka.

Buddhism, after all, is the best reward that India provides Sri Lanka. It is a really sturdy bond between the general public of the 2 international locations.

India is a tried and examined pal that’s all the time there for us. It is not only the present monetary package deal. When COVID-19 hit us, India was the primary on the scene with 500,000 vaccines. When we had that very surprising maritime catastrophe, the oil spill, India doused the flames of that ship. Otherwise the calamity would have been way more severe proportions.

Then we’ve got present fiscal difficulties, now for the time being notably international alternate difficulties. India got here up with a package deal to assist us which consists of a number of pillars as they had been referred to as. The first was a line of credit score 1 billion US {dollars} for the acquisition or meals and pharmaceutical merchandise (nonetheless being negotiated). The second pillar was oil safety that’s $500 million revolving funds made accessible to us by the ExIm Bank of India. The third pillar needed to do with the steadiness of funds 515 million US {dollars} with the Asian clearing union for which we got a deferral and sought foreign money swap of 400 million. In whole roughly 1.9 billion US {dollars}, which helped us enormously to tide over this momentary interval of problem.

So this this entire monetary package deal that you simply outlined – the fourth pillar was the Trincomalee oil storage settlement?

No the fourth pillar was substantial Indian funding into Sri Lanka the personal sector. Now the Trincomalee oil tank farm was actually part of the power safety pillar, as a result of it was going to assist retailer oil and the association was labored out that’s there are 99 tanks in all — 24 for the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, 14 for Lanka Indian Oil Corporation. The 61 remaining can be a three way partnership through which Sri Lanka would have 51% and India would have 49%

Would you agree with the studying that this was a quid professional quo for the monetary help?

No, it was not a quid professional quo as a result of Indian help has been accessible constantly over the past 15 years. There have been as many as 11 Indian traces of credit score, primarily for the event of our railway sector. As not too long ago as January 2022, there was the railway that was resumed between Colombo and Kankesanthurai. That is with Indian diesel engine a number of items. So that’s not right. It shouldn’t be as if if you’ll do that for us, after which we’ll begin releasing the funds that you simply want.

In the well being sector, the Indian ambulances [given] so a few years in the past, there was no quid professional quo.

Then Prime Minister Modi’s water programmes, sanitation within the faculties – this was a dire requirement. So that was accomplished about 5 months in the past when [foreign secretary] Harsh Shringla got here to Sri Lanka. Then we’ve got the Grama Shakti programme, underneath which about 45,000 homes had been handed over to households. In all these examples thhere was no quid professional quo, no strings or situations connected to guys.

The Trinco oil farm goes to require some huge cash. Each of these tanks goes to price thousands and thousands of {dollars} to refurbish and get began. Have there been any dialogue with India about this cash goes to be raised? And how is Ceylon Petroleum Corporation going to boost the cash for its facet of the deal in these 14 years?

The very first thing was to get the transaction accomplished. Now the essential contours of which were agreed upon, however there are nonetheless a few steps to be taken. But these are the minor steps, the lease agreements must be executed. So we at the moment are targeted on these preparations, which must be accomplished earlier than the factor truly will get off the bottom.

CPC additionally has to boost cash for its share of 14 tanks. It may increase cash from a international participant. Does that must be in session with India?

No, we haven’t obtained to the stage of contemplating intimately preparations of that nature, as a result of it truly is just a little untimely. We must get all of the authorized preparations in place, which is now nonetheless not been accomplished. We’ll try this after which we’ll deal with the operational preparations.

You spoke about cooperation within the power sector. There was purported to be an settlement between NTPC and Sri Lanka to begin a photo voltaic farm solar energy farm in Sampur [near Trincomlaee]. Is that coming by means of?

That’s additionally underneath dialogue. Immediate issues within the pipeline – one is that this $15 million MOU about Buddhist temples, then we’ve got one other one between the Sushma Swaraj Institute of Foreign Service right here and the Bandaranaike Diplomatic Training Institute, then there’s one more one a few 4000 metric ton, floating dock. There are a number of within the pipeline. And we hope to finish as many of those as potential.

There can also be proposal for the acquisition of two Dornier plane. There isn’t any finality, nothing has been agreed upon. There are proposals and counterproposals and it’s a matter underneath dialogue. There isn’t any settlement or finality.

In about two weeks time the Sri Lankan Finance Minister Mr Basil Rajapaksa will likely be coming right here once more [he last visited in December 2021] to agency up all of that. Then we count on Dr. Jaishankar to go to us across the second or third week of March. And it’s nonetheless not confirmed, not confirmed in any respect. But we hope that it could be potential for the Indian Prime Minister Shri Modi to return to us for the BIMSTEC summit on March 31. Sri Lanka is presently the chair of BIMSTEC, we’re handing over to Thailand. The summit is in a hybrid format. Leaders who can come will achieve this others can take part on-line. There’s a lot that has occurred throughout the previous couple of months [on the India-Sri Lanka front] that there may very well be an actual substance to that go to.

Regarding BIMSTEC, there’s a problem about Myanmar’s participation. What dialog have you ever had with India on the invitation to Myanmar? Where does BIMSTEC stand on that?

It can be mistaken for Sri Lanka to make a unilateral choice. We wish to do it in a collegial spirit, you already know, discuss to all the opposite international locations and attempt to arrive at a consensus on what would all of them love to do. It’s a really tough scenario. So we wish to seek the advice of with everybody, come to a conclusion that a lot of the international locations are prepared to simply accept, after which make that call recognized to others and have an inner session earlier than asserting a closing choice. And that appears the fitting option to sit about it.

On the Sri Lankan financial scenario, there’s been a number of debate about going to the IMF or not going to the IMF. Is that one thing that you’re contemplating?

There isn’t any agency choice to that impact that there was some session, however that’s all technical issues. The IMF has made an announcement they’d that they’d be completely happy that they’ve used the phrase prepared. They stand prepared to help if approached by Sri Lanka, however Sri Lanka has not made any overtures to the IMF.

During your go to to Delhi, did you additionally search any assurance from the federal government of India on the upcoming session on the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is able to happen this month finish?

In September final 12 months, there was an oral replace [on the situation in Sri LAnka]. Now, on the 49 session which begins on the twenty eighth of February, there will likely be a written report. In the 51st session in September, there will likely be a complete report by the advert hoc mechanism, which has been established underneath the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

We will likely be given a complicated copy on February 14 and we’ve got 5 days through which to reply proper. But we’re in shut contact with the Indian authorities. And India may be very a lot conscious of all of the progress that has been made within the current previous, notably with regard to the work which has been accomplished on the bottom by the so referred to as Local mechanisms, such because the Office of lacking individuals, the Office of reparations, the workplace of National Unity and Reconciliation, the SDG Sustainable Development Goals 16 Council and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.

In truth, about two weeks in the past, in Colombo, I addressed all of the members of the diplomatic group. Each of those establishments was requested to make their very own presentation concerning the work which they’ve accomplished, not expectations or plans for the long run, higher outcomes which had been proven on the bottom seen, verifiable, measurable outcomes.

Isn’t this a U flip from what we noticed when President Rajapaksa stated we’re withdrawing from the earlier commitments to the Human Rights Council. Is this since you’re frightened concerning the withdrawal of preferential tariffs by the EU, which will likely be an enormous setback to your financial system?

We didn’t repudiate obligations. We are members of the UN. We can’t reject the Office of the High Commissioner. We withdrew from co- sponsorship of the decision. This was a decision introduced by the US and another international locations [in 2015] and the then international minister of Sri Lanka Mr Mangala Samaraweera determined to co sponsor. So that was a moderately extraordinary scenario. The nation was co sponsoring a decision that was very strongly vital of its personal armed forces. So when the federal government modified in November 2019, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took the place that we can not try this. We due to this fact withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the decision.

But there are some issues that we should do, not underneath compulsion, for example, the reform of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

There are considerations about how far reaching these reforms are.

That criticism may be very unfair … [I]t might be convincingly established to the satisfaction of any dispassionate observer that there actually is an elementary distinction between the 2. So it’s a vital enhancement on the prevailing regulation. I’m not saying it’s excellent, however it’s actually a considerable advance on the prevailing regulation. And we’ve got additionally made it plain that we’re doing it in two levels, we’re making ready a totally new regulation. But since that’s going to take a while, among the pressing amendments must be delivered to parliament earlier than the excellent laws is prepared.

Why not abolish it altogether?

No, that may be accomplished as a result of all through civilization, there was an try and strike the fitting steadiness between safety and liberty. You can not completely jettison safety in pursuit of liberty or vice versa, the important problem is to strike to treatment an equilibrium between the 2. And the the scenario in Sri Lanka within the area on the earth is such that safety can’t be forgotten about. The new laws brings Sri Lanka in step with worldwide requirements till the excellent laws is prepared and we’re engaged on that and will probably be delivered to Parliament as quickly as potential.

On the EU GSP, how involved are you about that?

If GSP plus is withdrawn from Sri Lanka, which which we think about exceedingly unlikely – however let’s take the hypothetical chance that it will occur — who’s going to bear the brunt of it? The most weak segments on the Sri Lankan inhabitants, specifically ladies working in garment factories. 90% of the workers working in garment factories are ladies, they’ve accustomed to a way of life. Many of them are supporting their households, they’re educating themselves. All of this will likely be affected. Then the fishing communities, as a result of there are 7,100 gadgets that discover their method into the markets of Western Europe underneath the GSP plus scheme, and it’s price roughly 3.5 billion US {dollars} per 12 months to Sri Lanka. So should you take it away, it’s not a punitive measure in opposition to the federal government, it’s a punitive measure directed in opposition to the poorer sections of the Sri Lankan communities least in a position to bear that added burden. It merely is mindless.

One of the one of many points that has come up repeatedly between India and Sri Lanka, and one which Sri Lanka has not been in a position to settle, is the Tamil political query. Doesn’t it fear Sri Lanka that this stays a supply of pressure between the 2 communities , with a possible of turning into a much bigger concern sooner or later?

The thirteenth Amendment is an integral a part of Sri Lanka’s Constitution of 1978. The primary characteristic of the thirteenth modification is a division of powers between the central authorities and the provincial councils. What has occurred now, for the final two years? There have been no provincial council elections. As we communicate, now, there’s not one single elected member of a provincial council. Does that imply the features of province or councils have reverted to the middle? When you come to consider it, a tremendous growth in constitutional historical past in any a part of the world. Without legislating one phrase the thirteenth modification has been nullified. Who is accountable? None apart from the Tamil National Alliance. Why do I say that? The administration of 2015 to 2019 didn’t maintain these elections. They knew that they’d be routed, it could be a very humiliating defeat. So they had been decided to not maintain that election. At the identical time, they couldn’t defy the courtroom order [that the election should be held]. So then they hit on an ingenious resolution. The resolution was to say, Okay, we’ll maintain the election, however the electoral system is unacceptable.. we’ve got to alter the electoral system. They abolished the system that existed, however intentionally avoided substituting it with a brand new system. So you intentionally create a lacuna, a hiatus. How are you able to maintain the election [when] there’s no electoral system. So it’s a self induced self created downside for no different objective, then pushing aside the elections indefinitely.

The TNA was at the moment an uncritical supporter of that authorities. A two thirds majority was given by the TNA, they’d 16 seats. It is supreme irony for the individuals who created that scenario and disadvantaged all of the individuals of Sri Lanka, not solely the North and the East, however all people of the fitting to have their elected representatives and provincial councils. Having accomplished that intentionally now to enchantment to the Government of India. to extricate them from this predicament, are you able to consider a greater instance of supreme irony? They created the scenario.

But they’re additionally saying that thirteenth modification shouldn’t be sufficient, and now there’s a have to transcend that…

Yes. But no matter was given was nullified. completely and completely, by this aware and deliberate motion state and now, they’re asking for extra, no matter there was they destroyed. It’s now right down to zero.

So what’s the method ahead?

There is a choose committee of Parliament which is functioning underneath the chairmanship of the chief of the House. And the mandate of that committee is to make suggestions concerning the reform of electoral legal guidelines in any respect ranges, that’s parliament, provincial councils and native authorities. It is making appreciable headway it’s assembly generally twice, 3 times every week.

But there’s additionally the opposite growth of 1, one nation one regulation even that has created some unease that it will be extra centralizing.

Whatever the brand new structure goes to be, no person is aware of but. Whatever kind that’s going to take, if it will be extra centralizing, moderately than devolving that’s pure hypothesis. Because the preparation of the draft is the duty of a committee of specialists. And the draft of the brand new Constitution, they’ve been engaged on this for a few 12 months and so they’re now reaching the ultimate levels of their work, however they haven’t submitted their report back to the federal government. So all of the hypothesis concerning the nature of the proposed Constitution, its primary provisions, it’s all conjecture, pure guesswork.

India has stated Sri Lanka should implement the thirteenth modification. Did the problem come up within the in your conversations now?

No, as a result of the electoral reforms are nonetheless work in progress.

Is the thirteenth Amendment going to be a part of the brand new Constitution? There are calls for that it ought to be struck out?

Well, there are a selection of factors of view. That is democracy. We can not cease it. So there are totally different factors of view, some will need it strengthened, some will need it weakened – there can be a range of views emanating from totally different sections of society.

The committee’s personal suggestions usually are not a matter that’s recognized for the time being, as a result of the report remains to be being ready by the committee has been submitted.

Sri Lanka is in the course of this rivalry between China on one facet with which it has very shut relations, and India, which has an enormous downside with you Chinese presence iin Sri Lanka. We have seen that. Now the Quad has introduced issues nearer Sri Lanka…

That’s not a brand new downside, however rivalry has been there for a very long time. That is a part of the geopolitical realities of the Indian Ocean. Itt’s is a truth of life, it is a matter that we’ve got discovered to deal with over a really lengthy interval. And for us, it’s not actually a vexed downside. Because there isn’t a exclusivity in Sri Lanka international relations. There’s no exclusivity,

But it did develop into an issue. You had tensions with India earlier than this speedy interval of the final three months over exactly this.

That is because of sure misconceptions. There is, after all, the Belt and Road Initiative with China. And there isn’t a denying that this has resulted in vital advantages for Sri Lanka, particularly with regard to the event of infrastructure, highways or railroad programs, ports and harbours and so forth. India was by no means threatened. There was this notion, which didn’t accord with the truth. Because if there was Chinese funding into the nation, so was the Indian funding into the nation. Indian funding. What concerning the resort sector, as I stated, the ITC, then this HCL holdings that’s very giant. Don’t overlook that India is the second largest buying and selling accomplice of Sri Lanka, and the third largest supply of funding into Sri Lanka. So if there’s a Chinese footprint, there’s additionally an Indian footprint. And we had by no means, underneath any circumstances, enable any nation to make use of Sri Lankan territory or territorial waters or facets to the detriment of every other nation that may be a pal of Sri Lanka’s. So India by no means had motive to really feel threatened. But in any case, now India is a really energetic participant in our financial system. And as I see it, we don’t suppose that there was actually a rational foundation for these apprehensions. Because there’s something very particular about Sri Lanka’s relationship with India. It has a particular high quality about it. So it was inconceivable that Sri Lanka would have allowed our nation for use in opposition to India, it was by no means ever going to occur. But now in any case that’s consigned to the previous, as a result of there’s very vigorous cooperation with India in an entire vary, an enormous array of financial actions throughout the spectrum. We at the moment are reaching a excessive level within the relationship. The one flashpoint is a fisheries concern. Yeah. But other than that, it’s an unreservedly optimistic relationship at this cut-off date.

(Source: The Indian Express)