Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe appeared on Friday to be dismissive of trade deals in South Asia, saying there was “too much politics” and the country should broaden its partnerships with “whoever we want”.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think there will be any overseas trade integration in the South Asian region. No, there must be a bilateral agreement with whoever we want,” he said, speaking at a conference on rebuilding the island’s economy. . teeters under the worst crisis.
“There’s too much politics involved to get a regional trade deal in South Asia. We can put that aside. We can have integration in dancing, cooking, but you certainly won’t have integration as far as the economy is concerned.” said Wickremesinghe.
Although he did not mention India, the comments in New Delhi could cause consternation. India, the main engine of South Asian engagement, has long strived to lead Sri Lanka away from China, in efforts that culminated this week during a planned visit by a Chinese “espionage ship” to a port in the country. .
Indian government sources had said the ship’s progress was being monitored. India has made it clear that it “will closely monitor any impact on India’s security and economic interests and take all necessary measures to protect them”.
Apart from $5 billion in aid to the crisis-stricken country, India has several trade agreements with Sri Lanka.
Two days ago, during a meeting with newly appointed Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar reaffirmed India’s commitment as “a trusted friend and trusted partner for the economic recovery and well-being” of the island nation.
Speaking at the conference, Mr Wickremesinghe spoke of the crisis and the mountain of debt – much of which was owed to China: “First the external debt and then, if you look at the official debt, we get caught up in the geopolitics of the region of Asia Geopolitics, that’s what it’s all about.”
He also referred to the Chinese-run Sri Lankan port of Hambantota, where the Chinese ship was to set sail.
“If you look at the economies of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, logistics can play a big role. Here in Colombo, in Hambantota and Trincomalee, we use our strategic position in this way,” said the Sri Lankan president.
AFP news agency reported on Saturday that Sri Lanka had asked China to indefinitely postpone the visit of the Yuan Wang 5 ship, which can be used for surveillance and tracking of intercontinental ballistic missiles and satellites, to Hambantota.