'Give iron clad guarantees to India, but don’t trade one’s own interests' – Dr. Kohona

COLOMBO (The Island/ANN) - While admitting the importance of making India comfortable Former Foreign Secretary warns against trading land and assets for political favours.

Former Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona underscoring the pivotal importance of ensuring an environment that would make India comfortable warned that trading land and assets for political favours would not serve Sri Lanka’s long term interests.

The country’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York said: "Sri Lanka’s diplomatic comfort level with India has always been cherished. India has been a major source of investments and tourists. The big neighbour must feel the reassurance that the small island to the south will not pose a strategic threat, and will not collude with any other country. It should never become someone else’s unsinkable aircraft carrier! Sri Lanka’s own interests will be served well with a reliable relationship with India. This does not mean subservience or a one-way approach dominated by hectoring and gratuitous advice. The relationship, if it is to be comfortable and sustainable, must be one between two proud sovereign nations. India has a positive role to play as the bigger and stronger neighbour to the north. India’s burgeoning economy could provide a ready outlet for Sri Lankan businesses to expand but over-zealous and rash opening up of our economic doors with no comparable reciprocity would certainly create unease.

"The fact that China and India fought a border war in 1962 and have occasionally skirmished along a disputed colonial border cannot be dismissed easily. India continues to be suspicious about China’s outreach in the region. India’s natural concerns and sensitivities have impacted on the thinking of the smaller countries of the Indian Ocean region and must be a key factor in our foreign policy. India which was so close to the Soviet Union and continues to source much of its military hardware from Russia has a growing relationship with the U.S. which has clear military implications.

India, while strengthening its naval capabilities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, has also quietly developed strategic relations with Australia and Japan, participating in regular joint naval exercises. India maintains a base in the Seychelles and has concluded an agreement to build an airstrip and a sophisticated "monitoring station" at a cost of US $45 million. It has also signed a Bilateral Agreement for Naval Cooperation with Singapore that provides Indian Navy ships temporary deployment facilities and logistics support at Singapore’s Changi naval base, which is near the disputed South China Sea. Indian military strength in Indian Ocean region is formidable. Sri Lanka has hosted a number of joint exercises recently with key countries with an Indian Ocean interest.

It seems unlikely that China, even if it wished, would be rash enough to challenge nuclear-armed India in the Indian Ocean for decades to come. India enjoys overwhelming military superiority in the Indian Ocean and is likely to consolidate this position even further in the future. Additionally, the U.S. maintains a mammoth base in Diego Garcia to the south of Sri Lanka. It is highly improbable that Chinese policy makers would consider challenging the existing power arrangements in the Indian Ocean any time soon, if ever. They have not done so since Admiral Zheng He’s flotilla entered the Indian Ocean in 1405 and dominated the region till 1433. To over extend in order to meet a possible challenge from China would only result in expending scarce resources for a scenario that is unlikely to eventuate.

Sri Lanka, as a small neighbour eager to ascend the development ladder in the shortest possible time is caught between the sensitivities of its closest and much stronger neighbour and the need to develop deeper and pragmatic economic relations with another. India’s GDP is now estimated at Dollars 2.3 trillion. While there is little doubt that as a longtime friend and a country that has provided much of Sri Lanka’s religious, especially Buddhism, and cultural inspiration, India also unilaterally decided to insert itself in to the Sri Lankan conflict in the eighties with disastrous consequences for itself. Sri Lanka must ensure that such an eventuality will not be repeated.

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