Colombo, November 26 (newsin.asia): The new Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said that his government will not do anything that will threaten the security of India. Equally significantly, he has also said that he will renegotiate the 99-year lease of Hambantota port to China.
In a video interview to Nitin Gokhale, Editor-i-Chief of the Indian defense magazine “Bharat Shakti”, President Gotabaya said that he understands India’s security concerns and will not do anything that threatens its security interests.
Sri Lanka wants to be neutral and safeguard its sovereignty, but at the same time it has to be practical as India is a regional power and a big country, the President said explaining his stand.
The Lankan President further said that during his visit to New Delhi (on November 29) he will give that assurance to the Indian leaders.
On the previous government’s grant of a 99 year lease of the Hambantota port to a government-owned Chinese company, Gotabaya said that it was a wrong thing to do and people do not like it.
He said he would have no objection to giving the Chinese a terminal in the port for commercial use, but a national strategic and economic asset cannot be given away like the way Hambantota was given away and that for generations.
Sri Lanka will have to have control over such vital assets, he stressed.
Gotabaya further assured that Sri Lanka will not allow other countries to use its assets for military purposes as the island nation is keen on steering clear of super power rivalries. He clearly stated that the Indian Ocean should be kept free for all nations to use. It should not be dominated by one country (which is the Indian and US position and is opposed to China’s position).
Balancing India and China
On balancing India and China, Gotabaya said that there is no question of balancing one country and another. What he meant when he said that Sri Lanka would be “neutral” was that Sri Lanka would not like to be drawn into big power rivalry. There is every possibility of such a thing happening given the island’s strategic location on the East-West international sea lane, he said.
Sri Lanka will be neutral in as much as it will welcome assistance and investments from all countries. He said that countries like China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Australia should invest in Sri Lanka.
The investments need not be only in big projects but could be in fields like technical education and technology transfer. India, he added, could invest in education and in the high tech field.
Assuring an “investment-friendly environment” with outdated regulations replaced, the President invited entrepreneurs from India and other countries to invest in the island nation.
He appealed to Western countries not to put pressure on a weak and small country like Sri Lanka but to assist it and invest in it, as putting pressure benefits no one.
He further said that the foreign media should eschew writing on the basis of hearsay and rumors and to fact check and meet and talk to him before dashing off their reports.
On the question of ethnic reconciliation, Gotabaya said that in his view, reconciliation will come on the heels of equitable economic development across ethnic, religious and regional divides.
The Tamils in the North should get proper education, especially vocational education through which they can develop their skills and get good jobs. He would encourage the private sector to invest in the war-devastated areas in the North to generate employment for youth who had been denied opportunities because of the war.
Political Issues Can Be Discussed Side By Side
The President blamed the Sinhalese and Tamil leaders for misleading their communities by talking about impossible political schemes (namely, devolution of power) and fooling the people.
His government would attempt to do what is doable (that is in the economc field) and let discussions on a political solution to the ethnic problem continue side by side.
He appealed to the Tamil Diaspora to invest in Sri Lanka. Their promotion of a political cause has not helped them, the Tamils or anybody for that matter, the President argued.
On Muslim Question
On reassuring the alienated Muslims, who were persecuted after the April 21 serial suicide bombings by a Jehadi group, Gotabaya said that while the Muslims would enjoy all rights, they should understand society (by which he meant that they should keep in mind the sensitivities of the surrounding society).
Going further, he pointed out that even in advanced countries there are differences between religious and ethnic groups (and that an accusing finger should not be pointed at Sri Lanka only).
War Is Not Rosy
On the charge of war crimes against the Lankan armed forces and even against himself, Gotabaya said that “war is not rosy” and things do not always go smoothly.
He pointed out that such incidents happened when the Western powers conducted military operations in the Middle East.
He appealed to the international community to understand Sri Lanka as it is a small and developing country and not just criticize it. The world should help it rather than put pressure on it because putting pressure helps nobody.
Asked to comment on the charge that he is authoritarian and dictatorial Gotabaya said that he is not authoritarian but is a disciplinarian.
On his agenda of work, President Gotabaya said that national security will be given priority because without the assurance of security there would be no economic investment, whether domestic or international.
For ensuring security in a non-war situation, the intelligence apparatus should be strong and able to operate in a coordinated manner. But the previous government had missed the point and created a security vacuum.
The President blamed the previous government for demoralizing the armed forces whose intelligence capability, honed during the war against terrorism, was of the highest order among the various intelligence agencies in the country.
When some intelligence operatives were proceeded against for alleged crimes, the armed forces intelligence personnel got demoralized and were cooling their heels.
The second flaw was lack of coordination of intelligence inputs. The State Intelligence Service (SIS), which was the top intelligence agency in the last regime, was found wanting in this regard.
President Gotabaya said that the newly appointed Defense Secretary (Maj Gen.Retired Kamal Gunaratne) is a good officer and will coordinate intelligence secured from domestic and foreign agencies.
On the economic front the President said that priority would be give to the development of agriculture. It will be modernized, and for that, farmers would be trained in the required skills. He would try to make agriculture a profitable business and lift the farmer out of poverty.
Sri Lanka being known for its plantations, the government would improve the production and marketing of tea, rubber, cinnamon and pepper. The accent would be on value addition and quality rather than quantity, Gotabaya said.
Tourism is another area which would be given attention as Sri Lanka’s potential in this area is great. The accent would be on attracting the upwardly mobile middle classes from various countries His government will also promote religious tourism which too has great potential.
In the industrial field, priority would be given to knowledge-based industries as Sri Lanka has good and easily trainable manpower.
(The featured image at the top shows Bharat Shakti Editor-in-Chief Nitin Gokhale with the Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa)