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Talking to India how to avoid Chinese ship docking like incidents, says Milinda Moragoda, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India

By Priti Prakash | PUBLISHED: 22, Sep 2022, 16:25 pm IST | UPDATED: 23, Sep 2022, 14:00 pm IST

Talking to India how to avoid Chinese ship docking like incidents, says Milinda Moragoda, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India New Delhi: A few months back a Chinese vessel docked at Hambantota in Colombo in Sri Lanka. Going against India’s interest, New Delhi made its objections vocal enough to Colombo. The ship was said to be tracking ship that had clandestine interests in the maritime borders. Why did Sr Lanka give access to the Chinese ship at the first place and did Sri Lanka undermine India’s security concerns?

Talking to reporters at IWPC, Sri Lankan High Commissioner Milinda Moragoda said, 'There are lessons learnt. We are talking to India how to avoid such incidents in future. How do we have better & transparent communication & develop some kind of a framework to avoid such issues.' He said, 'lot of technologies today are dual purpose technologies. They can be used for peace and war & we may not be familiar with them. So we need to have a better understanding. But for us India is the anchor for security. No disputes about that. ‘


Informing about the background Milinda said, 'Approval for this was granted at the time when we were in the state of chaos on ground. Having granted it there was an issue doing anything after that. Lesson learnt is that we need to have very close coordination & cooperation with India. We are working on a framework of operation. There was no intention of working against India’s security interests. He said, 'It has been our basic foreign policy as India’s security interests are our own security interests.'

'In 1987 the accord that was signed had mentioned that India wud not allow Indian soil to be used against Sri Lanka & similarly Sri Lanka will not allow maritime borders to be used against India. It a matter of how we implement it and how we engage. Some time ago we had a similar understanding for a submarine that came from China in 2014. It a process. We have to learn that it doesn’t happen again. Such things are done in a routine level unless something stark comes up. The permission was given when our former President was about to leave. There was no political involvement in this decision. We have had over 300 naval ship visits to Sri Lanka from India, also from US navies & a large number of research vessels from China as well. Most of them come to Colombo, Hambantota.'

Way forward

India has last year extended an assistance of $4 billion to the island nation to come out of its economic mess. Thanking India for its support he said, 'India is the anchor of security in this region. Without India we will not have been able to last this far.' said the Sri Lankan Ambassador Milinda Moragoda. ‘We see our resurgence as a 2 steps way to recovery. 'Stabilization and then revival phase in which India will play a key role. Revival will come through investments, market access & looking at new areas for integration, he said. 'Only way we can turn this around is growth & India is a key component of that.'

What went wrong

On what went wrong in Sri Lanka to lead to the present crisis, he said, ‘We invested heavily in the social sector. Education health, someway at the cost of economy. Didn’t invests in growth. Presently we spend 80 % of our revenue on salaries & pensions for our state sector employees in a population of 20 million. 74% spent on interest payment alone for our debt. So we begin every year borrowing & in dollars. Our enterprises are losing money as we are losing on electricity, on petroleum. Whatever comes in gets stuck in our banking sector. Covid & Ukraine crisis brought all this to fore. It was a problem that was waiting to happen.'

Certain lessons to be learnt from the uprising are he said, 'Our youth feels that our economies haven't been delivering for them. We have to find ways for growth & employment. With India its more of a strategic & economic relationship than transactional.  We have to fall to India to grow.'

Ports, Investment and Tourism

Talking about the broad partnership between India and Sri Lanka he said, ‘India and Sri Lanka are collaborating in many spheres like electricity cable link connecting Sri Lanka with India, on Trincomalee as an energy hub and a refinery, investments in ports. Trincomalee oil tank farm is now being jointly managed by Sri Lanka & India. That could potentially be in link with the pipeline with India for oil supply and a logistic centre.’

He further informed 'Colombo port is largely a port servicing India. Adani ports have invested & that work will start in coming weeks. Whether it is fresh investment or buying existing businesses in Sri Lanka or developing or expanding them, focus will be on economic integration.'

What is Sri Lanka doing on the trade front, he informed, 'We are working on making connectivity better. Flights to Jaffna are starting as well as more connectivity from other Indian cities too. We must think of out of the box ideas. Tourism is the quickest way to start. ITC is building the first star class hotel. Spending about  400 million dollars opening next year. Integrated gaming resort coming up. Wedding & event tourism happening. We are working on Comprehensive Economic Partnership.  In IT India is playing a key role. HCL is investing in Sri Lanka as well as TATA and Infosys. There is potential for renewable wind & solar energy in northwest of SL. Like, Tourism is the low hanging fruit. Before covid, India contributed 20-25% tourists. India is our main market for tourism.

Political mess

Talking about the political mess in his country, Milinda said, 'The blowback we saw in the last few days was because people felt politicians were looking after themselves more than the people & nothing coming to the ground. One of the reason for corruption in SL is the voting system which needs to be corrected. We have a very convoluted voting system which requires millions & millions of rupees to even contest a local seat. So a change is being worked out a the provincial council level for voting.'

Chinese Debt

How much aid from China are you getting? 10% of our debt is Chinese. We are looking at structuring it. Discussion for stabilisation with Chinese and some more countries is going on. Our President is visiting Japan.

What about Fishermen

On Fishermen issue, he said, ‘We have to find a solution to this complex problem. There are 3 elements to it. Legal side, law is clear on this. Ecological side, if the fishing belts on our sides gets denuded they will lose the fish. Environmentally overfishing can be a problem. Then Livelihood issue is very important. We have to ensure to work together on livelihood. Tamil Nadu fishermen are using much bigger trawlers so fish beds have problem. Discussions on trying to encourage deep sea fishing.

 

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