Unlike his predecessors, President Wickremesinghe has chosen to visit Japan in his first foreign traveling since he became the president on July 20 through a parliament vote. His predecessors, both Gotabaya Rajapaksa (2019-2022) and Maithripala Sirisena (2016-2022), visited India in their first foreign visit.
The president’s visit also comes days after financial advisory group Lazard started talks with India, China and Japan on restructuring Sri Lanka’s debt.
Sri Lanka has sought an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout and the global lender has agreed for a $2.9 billion, 48-month package, pending the IMF executive board approval depending on Sri Lanka’s reforms and agreement with all of its external creditors.
Political analysts and sources close to him have said Wickremesinghe has been navigating foreign policy carefully to ensure he is not caught in India-China geopolitics.
“He sees Japan as a long-term development partner for Sri Lanka,” a government official who is closely working with Wickremesinghe on the reforms and debt restructuring said, asking not to be named.
“We are on our knees after the economic crisis, and we may be compelled to give away some demands by China and India, if they want to use our crisis for their own benefit.” “Japan could be a better choice to facilitate the debt restructuring talks.”
The above is an article from the Economy Next website on Ranil’s visit to Japan. According to Ranil’s Close Contact, whose name is not included on the website, Ranil’s objective is to let China and India battle each other while bringing Japan closer to Sri Lanka. He told the website that Ranil believes Japan does not make demands to support Sri Lanka in the same way that China and India do.
During the 2002 Peace Process, Ranil did the same thing. President Chandrika had requested Norway to intervene for peace in Sri Lanka before Ranil became Prime Minister in 2002. Norway’s intervention became formal after Ranil became Prime Minister. Sri Lankan government and the LTTE Negotiations have begun throuhgh Norway. Norwegian peace delegates met Prabhakaran in the Vanni forest.
Ranil did not like very much Norway seizing control of the peace process while it was in progress. By this point, India had grown wary of the Norway roll. India suspects Norway of being an LTTE sympathiser. Ranil brought Japan into the peace process in order to control Norway’s monopoly. Japan likewise designated a special peace envoy for this purpose. He travelled to the Vanni forest and met Prabhakaran. This humiliated Norway.
The reason for this is that Norway was the messenger between the government and LTTE, but Ranil appointed Japan as well. During the peace process, Norway hosted a donor conference in their country to support Sri Lanka. The LTTE attended the summit in Norway. Following that, Japan hosted the Tokyo donor Conference in order to provide aid to Sri Lanka. It is unknown whether the LTTE boycotted it to please Norway or to show discord between Norway and Japan. However, Ranil used Japan to control Norway and this lead the disruption of the peace process.
Ranil is now attempting to place Japan between India and China. Another reason for Ranil’s proximity to Japan is the understanding between India and the United States about Sri Lanka. America took judgments about Sri Lanka based on guidance from India. Ranil desires direct interaction with America. Ranil’s relationship with America was strained at the time. America has an ally in Japan. Ranil is attempting to gain American favour through Japan. He believes that dealing with America through Japan is simpler than dealing with America through India.
However, Japan has a negative attitude toward Sri Lanka. The administration of Gotabaya has ceased granting the Indo-Japan joint venture access to the East Terminal of Colombo Port. Gota’s Government halted Japanese light train project. According to the opposition leader, the Japanese envoy to this country stated that Minister Nimal Siripala requested bribery for Japanese projects. When he made such remarks, Gotabaya was president. Nimal Siripala was promptly removed from his position as minister by Gotabaya.
Nimal Siripala was relieved of his charges and became Minister as soon as Ranil became President. Ranil requested to call a debut restructurings forum in Japan. The claims were dismissed by Japan’s foreign minister. Japan considers Ranil’s government to be part of the Rajapaksa administration. JR being a close ally of Japan Japan always had good regards to JR. Today, Japan regards Ranil not as JR’s nephew, but as the Rajapaksa family’s guardian.
By Upul Joseph Fernando