Will have ‘India first’ policy, China port deal a mistake: Sri Lanka

NEW DELHI: Sri Lanka wants to pursue a “neutral” foreign policy but will retain an “India First” approach in strategic and security matters, foreign secretary Jayanath Colombage has said.
Speaking to a Sri Lankan TV channel, Colombage said on Monday, “President (Gotabaya Rajapaksa) has stated that in terms of strategic security, we will follow an ‘India first’ policy. We cannot afford to be a strategic security threat to India and we don’t have to be. We need to benefit from India. The president has clearly said that you are our first priority as far as security is concerned but I have to deal with other players for economic prosperity.”
Along with pursuing a neutral foreign policy, Sri Lanka will protect India’s strategic interests, he added.
In his remarks, the foreign secretary, the first from the armed services, said the decision to give Hambantota port on a 99-year lease to China was a “mistake”.
Foreign minister S Jaishankar recently reached out to his counterpart Dinesh Gunawardane after the Rajapaksa team returned to government in a resounding victory.
The Rajapaksa government, given its history, has been seen as closer to China than to India, which gives the Indian government an opportunity to move the relationship.
The big issue that India would seek to resolve is the Eastern Container Terminal where a local protest has stalled the project. In their private conversations, Sri Lanka has assured India of protecting its interests, but this will have to be formalised, sources here said.

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