ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s former president Mahinda Rajapaksa launched an attack on India on Tuesday, ahead of his visit to China, a country that strongly backed the island politically and financially during his decade in power.
The former leader told a group of local newspaper editors that India had been "furious" when Chinese submarines docked at the Colombo harbour in 2014, towards the end of his presidency.
Rajapaksa contrasted New Delhi’s attitude towards his regime and the government of his successor Maithripala Sirisena, accusing India of taking a softer line with the new administration in Colombo.
"They were furious when submarines docked at Colombo. From what I know, the Chinese informed the Indian embassy in Beijing before the submarines entered the Indian Ocean. But they made a huge cry about it."
He accused New Delhi of maintaining silence as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was giving the Hambantota port to the Chinese, along with vast amounts of land there.
"They (New Delhi) made a big issue about the submarines, but today even if you give the entire port (to China), it is not a problem for them (India). This shows the difference in diplomatic relations."
The former leader said he was opposed to selling land to foreigners, but did not object to securing foreign aid to develop the region and the country.
"The government is trying to give land from Trincomalee to India, and from Hambantota to China. They are trying to give 1,000 acres to Japan to grow vegetables."
He was also opposed to giving land on a 99-year lease. "Are you getting it back after 99 years? It won’t happen."
His remarks came just before he was due to leave on a tour of China as a guest of the Chinese government.
Earlier this month, the Chinese ambassador in Colombo, Yi Xianliang, called a rare press conference and criticised Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake by name and also ticked off the government over its alleged criticism of Beijing’s support during the Rajapaksa regime.
Ambassador Yi said Minister Ravi Karunanayake was asking for more Chinese loans after publicly criticising the Chinese funding as "expensive loans."
"You know Ravi criticises this issue many times, publicly. I ask him, if you don’t like this one, why do you talk with me again about another one (loan)." the ambassador said at his second press meet in as many years.
He said Minister Karunanayake told him about securing a $50 million loan from Europe last year at 5.8 per cent and said the 2.0 per cent Chinese loans were expensive.
The Chinese envoy also referred to "internal issues" within the unity government as holding up development activities, especially Chinese-funded projects.
Minister Karunanayake told reporters in Colombo on Thursday night that the Chinese envoy may have got his wires crossed, while Foreign Secretary Esala Weerakoon expressed Colombo’s concern over the public remarks of the envoy.
China had a cosy relationship with the Rajapaksa regime and secured free access for Chinese submarines at the Colombo port much to the discomfort of the regional super power and Sri Lanka’s immediate neighbour India.
The Chinese envoy made his displeasure known over alleged losses incurred due to the new administration’s suspension of projects initiated under the former regime of Rajapaksa.
Ambassador Yi said he maintained good relations with the former president as well as his successor and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, but was miffed with the alleged negative publicity China received in the local media.
The Chinese foreign ministry had defended their top diplomat in Colombo.
(COLOMBO, Nov 22, 2016)