Sri Lankan president Ranil Wickremesinghe assailed the AUKUS pact as a “military alliance” and an unnecessary arrangement that will backfire on the U.S., Australia, and the U.K.
The comments, from the head of a country widely viewed as having fallen victim to predatory loans from Chinese state-backed firms, highlight Washington’s challenges in courting non-Western countries skeptical of joining efforts to push back against Beijing’s malign activity.
“I think it’s a strategic misstep, and I think they made a mistake,” said Wickremesinghe this afternoon of AUKUS. He was addressing the Islands Dialogue, a conference hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation that convened leaders from Pacific island nations today, on the sidelines of the U.N.’s General Assembly meetings. He also said that it was intended to focus only on one country; though he did not name it, he was clearly speaking about China.
The governments of the U.S., Australia, and the U.K. characterize AUKUS as a technology-sharing agreement, not a military alliance. They’re using it to share submarine-related technology and other capabilities.
Throughout his remarks, Wickremisinghe criticized several Western diplomatic initiatives, saying he was taking a middle ground between the U.S. and China to staunchly advance his country’s interests.
He contested the Indian government’s claims that Yuan Wang 5, a Chinese ship that docked in his country in August 2022, was a spy ship. He said it was a research vessel and that his government had worked out a standard operating procedure for ships like that.
He also said a new port in Sri Lanka backed by the Chinese state-owned firm China Merchants Group was not linked at all to the Chinese military.
Wickremesinghe said that throughout his lifetime, he has seen the great-power blocs shift considerably.
“I have seen China and the U.S. taking on India and Russia. Now I’m seeing the U.S. and India taking on Russia and China.”