The US’ influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee has urged the Quad nations to take a “more proactive role” in addressing Sri Lanka’s political and economic crisis, while praising India’s role in providing humanitarian assistance to the government in the island nation to avoid a meltdown.
Quad nations comprises the US, India, Australia and Japan.
In a recent letter addressed to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong on a successful Quad Leaders’ Summit last month in Tokyo, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Bob Menendez urged the four-nation bloc to take a “more proactive role” in addressing Sri Lanka’s political and economic crisis.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese, Japanese premier Fumio Kishida and US President Joe Biden met in Tokyo in May for the Quad Summit “to renew our steadfast commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific that is inclusive and resilient”.
Asserting that there remains strong bipartisan and bicameral support in the US Congress for the Quad, Menendez said in the letter that there is much more the Quad can and should do in the Indian Ocean neighbourhood, starting with Sri Lanka.
“The origins of the Quad lie in the collective response by our four nations to the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. In the spirit of that tradition, today’s iteration of the Quad can lead the way in working to avoid an economic implosion in Sri Lanka that could spark a humanitarian crisis with wider, destabilising, regional impacts,” he said.
Menendez praised India for already taking a “proactive role in providing loans and humanitarian assistance to the Sri Lankan government to avoid a meltdown” and said Washington is preparing long-term economic support, while Tokyo is providing food assistance to the Sri Lankan people.
“These are all positive steps. But there is more than can be done via the Quad, including by mobilising additional humanitarian assistance, providing badly-needed fuel, and offering technical support and advice in the areas of financial accounting, health, food security, and macroeconomic policy.
“Through the new Quad Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Mechanism (HADR), Tokyo and Canberra can play a bigger role and demonstrate that the Quad is capable of tackling challenges across the entire breadth of the Indo-Pacific region,” he said.
Menendez said, “Under the Rajapaksas, Sri Lanka has been left on the brink of financial ruin and humanitarian catastrophe. Mahinda Rajapaksa led his country straight into a Chinese debt trap and then his brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, failed to take the prudent economic steps necessary to avoid a default on its sovereign debt. Today, Sri Lankans of all backgrounds are rising up to make clear that it is time for a change.”
Sri Lanka is currently facing its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948. The economic crisis has also triggered a political crisis leading to violent nationwide public protests demanding resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
On the diplomatic front, Menendez said all four Quad nations must stand together this year at the UN Human Rights Council when the body receives the High Commissioner’s report on war crimes committed during Sri Lanka’s civil war.
“Diplomatic unity would help demonstrate the Quad’s commitment to accountability and respect for international humanitarian laws. These sorts of efforts above would demonstrate to the entire region that the Quad is a robust, agile and critical component of emergent Indo-Pacific architecture essential to meeting changing circumstances and challenges in the region,” he said.
Menendez noted that last month’s Quad meeting in Tokyo produced tangible results, from boosting vaccine capacity to combating climate change to coordinating activities in cybersecurity, space, and other critical and emerging technologies.
In particular, the newly launched Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) is an important step for the region to build joint maritime capacity and information sharing, he said adding that the launch of the 13-nation Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) is a good first step toward deepening economic integration between like-minded allies and partners in the region.