Ahead of his visit to New Delhi, newly-elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said Sri Lanka would work with India and won’t do anything that would harm the neighbouring country’s interests. Maintaining that he wanted to work very closely with both India and China, Rajapaksa said he wanted Sri Lanka to be a “neutral country”.
“We want to work with all the countries and we don’t want to do anything which will harm any other country for that matter, we understand the importance of Indian concerns, so we cant engage in any activity which will threaten the security of India,” Gotabaya said in an interview with a media outlet.
Rajapaksa is set to travel to India on November 29 at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — his first foreign visit after being sworn-in as Sri Lanka’s President.
Following the election win, the Gotabhaya camp was quick to reach out to India — and convey that while China will be a “trade partner”, India remains “our relative”.
“We want to be a neutral country. We don’t want to get in between the power struggles of superpowers… We are so small and we can’t survive to get into this balancing acts,” the Sri Lankan President further said.
Gotabhaya, a former wartime defence secretary, further said Sri Lanka’s involvement with China during the presidency of his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was “purely commercial”. “I invite India, Singapore, Japan and Australia to come and invest here. Don’t allow only China to invest,” he said.
Rajapaksa also said that giving away the Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease was a mistake by the previous government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and had to be renegotiated.
“The deal has to be renegotiated. Giving a small loan for investment is a different thing but giving a strategic important economic harbour is not acceptable. That we should have controlled,” he said.
“We want investments to help us but we will not do anything to get involved in military and geopolitical rivalry,” he added.
China, which acquired Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port in 2017 as a debt swap, has been raking up its ties with the island nation and expanded its naval presence in the Indian Ocean with an established logistics base in Djibouti.
(With PTI inputs)