Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe appeared to scorn trade deals in South Asia on Friday, saying there was “too much politics” and the country needed to expand partnerships with “whoever we want”.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think there will be any overseas trade integration in the South Asian region. No, there has to be a bilateral deal with whoever we want,” he said during the interview. a conference on rebuilding the island nation’s economy. reeling from his worst crisis.
“There’s too much politics involved for there to be a regional trade deal in South Asia. We can keep that aside. We can have integration in dancing, cooking, but definitely, you’re not going to not have an integration as far as the economy is concerned,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said.
Although he did not name India, the remarks could spark consternation in New Delhi. A main driver of South Asian engagement, India has long been pushing to steer Sri Lanka away from China, in efforts that came to fruition this week amid a planned visit by a ‘spy’ ship Chinese in 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 implications on India’s security and economic interests and take all necessary measures to safeguard them.”
In addition to aid of 5 billion dollars to the country in crisis, India has several trade agreements with Sri Lanka.
Two days ago, during a meeting with the new Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Ali Sabry, the Indian Minister for External Affairs, S Jaishankar, reaffirmed India’s commitment as a “friend trustworthy and reliable partner, for the economic recovery and well-being” of the island nation.
Addressing the crisis and the pile of debt – much of it due to China – at the conference, Mr Wickremesinghe said: “First the external debt, then if you look at the official debt, are we caught in the geopolitics of the Asian region? Geopolitics, that’s the problem.
Considering closer trade relations with countries in Southeast Asia, Indo-Pacific countries, Europe and the United States, he also mentioned the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota, managed by the China, where the Chinese ship was to go.
“If you look at the economies of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, logistics can have a big role to play. Here in Colombo, Hambantota and Trincomalee, that’s how we use our strategic position,” said Sri Lankan President.
AFP news agency reported on Saturday that Sri Lanka has asked China to indefinitely delay the visit of the Yuan Wang 5 ship, which can be used for surveillance and tracking of intercontinental ballistic missiles and satellites, to Hambantota.