New Delhi: The new Lankan High Commissioner, Milinda Moragoda, sought to reassure India Friday there was no “external dimension” to the delay Indian projects were facing.
In an exclusive interview to the Times Of India, Moragoda said that while China has “investment footprints” in Sri Lanka, the Chinese presence has not spilled over into the security domain in any way that would undermine India’s interests.
During his visit to Sri Lanka earlier this week, Foreign secretary Harsh Shringla had in his meetings with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa underlined the need for expediting Indian projects and proposals. While Moragoda said there indeed was a “trust deficit” between India and Sri Lanka that needed to be addressed by both sides, he added that the bilateral ties were also marked by “transparency, sensitivity and candour’’.
“We don’t think any sinister motive should be attributed to it (delayed projects/ proposals). We have our own bureaucracy, politics and system. This is more of a process related issue and things are getting sorted out. The president is himself very impatient with bureaucracy and took the lead on the issue of the Colombo port’s Western Container Terminal (WCT which will be developed by the Adani group),’’ said Moragoda, adding things are expected to improve in the next 12 to 18 months. Moragoda said any concern about Chinese presence in Sri Lanka can be addressed through dialogue and that there should be only anticipation and engagement in the relationship and not surprises.”China has investment footprints in Sri Lanka but we don’t think that translates into a security issue. There’s already an open dialogue between India and Sri Lanka and there’s enough candour in the relationship. We have an asymmetric relationship and clearly Sri Lanka has no intention of threatening India strategically or allowing itself to be used against India,’’ said the High Commissioner, who called on National Security Adviser Ajit Doval to discuss a range of issues pertaining to “mutual strategic interests’’.
While India is still disappointed that Sri Lanka reneged on the tripartite agreement with India and Japan to develop the East Container Terminal (ECT), Moragoda said the deal with the Adani group for WCT was better from an investor’s point of view. “The opposition to ECT by trade unions wasn’t about any country but the level of resistance was such that the government was willing to allow only 49 per cent stake in the agreement. Given Japan’s long history in Sri Lanka, we would still like to work with Japan and India in sectors like energy, especially electricity, and oil,’’ he said. The Adani group will have 51 per cent stake in WCT as per the agreement announced last week, days before Shringla’s visit.
While Shringla had called for implementation of the provisions under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, including devolution of powers and the holding “at the earliest” of provincial council elections, Moragoda said the deadlock in Parliament that resulted from the previous government’s efforts to change the electoral system had to be resolved first. “There has to be some consensus in Parliament about the kind of electoral system that would apply to the provincial elections. It’s not a case of not wanting to hold elections but the deadlock has to be resolved,’’ said Moragoda.
Asked about developments related to Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council, and also its support to China on issues concerning Xinjiang and Hong Kong, the high commissioner said Sri Lanka would want to have engagement with India for cooperation in the multilateral sphere. “We have concerns about what happens at the Council. Both sides have to be sensitive about each other’s interests,’’ he said. (Times Of India).