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Jaishankar’s Sri Lanka Visit A Timely Reassurance To Crisis-Hit People

Sri Lanka is witnessing a massive economic crisis where its dollar reserves have completely depleted; the food crisis is such that rice is selling for Rs 500 per kg; medicine and fuel shortage have made life miserable. Sri Lanka’s economic crisis is the result of the two-year-long worldwide lockdown that put Sri Lankan tourism out of business. The country is heavily import-dependent for most of its needs - petroleum, food, lentils, medicines, paper, sugar, and transportation equipment

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By: Arun Kumar Shrivastav

Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is in Sri Lanka on a three-day visit. Besides meeting the top Sri Lankan leadership, the minister will take part in BIMSTEC foreign ministers’ meeting on March 29, which will culminate in the virtual BIMSTEC Summit on March 30.

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Before heading to Sri Lanka, Jaishankar was in the Maldives on March 26-27 where he held discussions with President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdulla Shahid.

Indian foreign minister’s bilateral engagement with the Maldives and Sri Lanka comes within three months of State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China Wang Yi’s visit to the two island nations.

The Maldives with 1200 atolls, 20-odd islands, and half a million population attracted a lot of world attention between 2013 and 2018 when president Abdulla Yameen approved useless Chinese projects under terms and conditions that were heavily loaded against the country.

Sri Lanka with about 22 million people has also been making similar news over the past decade when the Rajapaksa family has been occupying important positions in the country’s politics. Right now, 3 Rajapaksa siblings are occupying the 3 top executive positions in the country – GotabayaRajapaksa as the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa as the prime minister, and Basil Rajapaksa as the finance minister. All three brothers are accused of various corruption charges and are often blamed for approving useless Chinese projects that left the country in a Chinese debt trap.

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At the moment, Sri Lanka is witnessing a massive economic crisis where its dollar reserves have completely depleted; the food crisis is such that rice is selling for Rs 500 per kg; medicine and fuel shortage have made life miserable.

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis is the result of the two-year-long worldwide lockdown that put Sri Lankan tourism out of business. The country is heavily import-dependent for most of its needs – petroleum, food, lentils, medicines, paper, sugar, and transportation equipment.

Then comes a whimsical idea from the Rajapaksha brothers that the country should adopt a fully organic agricultural model by banning the import and use of chemical fertilizers overnight. By the time they realized their folly and its fallout the country had missed two crops.

Finally, the Russia-Ukraine war aggravated the food and fuel crisis the country was facing. China is nowhere on the scene as an all-weather friend who is ready to help out the country in its hour of crisis. Finally, Sri Lanka reached out to India and India has so far offered $1.5 billion worth of assistance. As per the latest reports, Sri Lanka has requested another $ billion line of credit.

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The Indian response to Sri Lankan economic crisis should be an eye-opener for another Indian neighbour, Pakistan, whose leaders have been pooh-poohing India. Pakistan is in the middle of an acute financial crisis and the situation may soon snowball into what it is like in Sri Lanka today.

The question is why China, the second-largest economy in the world, doesn’t offer the kind of assistance that India offers to Sri Lanka. The answer to this question can help these small countries to choose their friends wisely.

Many countries in Asia where political leadership chose to seek and accept Chinese assistance soon got into a vicious debt trap. Malaysia, Maldives, and Lanka are some of the prominent examples. Both Malaysia and Maldives have seen regime change; so has Nepal where Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli was seen to be getting too close to China. Pakistan, too, has seen a similar change in government but even the current government of Prime Minister Imran Khan doesn’t seem to be any different as far as its China policy is concerned. Incidentally, he, too, seems to be on his way out.

Despite the lure of big money, people in these countries have found friendship with China unpalatable. Why? Because people can see through that their governments are cheating the country by accepting unfair deals with China. For example, Sri Lanka Parliament passed the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill in May 2020 that gives a sovereign right to China on 660 acres of reclaimed land.

The Chinese dream of becoming a superpower is hinged on industrial growth and international business. China’s foreign policy is geared up towards economic benefits, an area of hot competition among top players such as the US, Germany, South Korea, Japan, and so on.

However, the turn of the tide in many countries that basked in the Chinese bonhomie in the preceding years underscores that diplomatic wars are never a done thing. Both in the Maldives and Sri Lanka, it’s India that stands vindicated today.

Indian EAM’s 3-day trip to Colombo amid the economic crisis must be highly reassuring to the people who are forced to flee the country to avoid the hardships. (IPA Service)

 

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The Hills Times
The Hills Timeshttps://www.thehillstimes.in/
The Hills Times, a largely circulated English daily published from Diphu and printed in Guwahati, having vast readership in hills districts of Assam, and neighbouring Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.
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