Such sentiments mark a shift in attitude towards Sri Lanka`s foreign military aid during nearly three decades of civil war, during which government forces clashed with Tamil Tiger separatists, which ended in May 2009. India, Pakistan, China and the United States have put aside their deep differences and supported Sri Lankan troops in their latest attack on the Tigers. Even officials of the Colombo foreign policy establishment are worried. They expect that, under the negotiated terms, closer military relations with the United States will lead Sri Lanka to be “dragged into military competition” in the future. Given the strong opposition to it, it may seem bleak for Sri Lanka and the United States to reach an agreement on SOFA. In the crosshairs, an agreement on the status of the armed forces, originally signed by the countries in 1995, paves the way for access to Sri Lanka for logistics. But Washington`s initiative to negotiate a new SOFA military cooperation agreement, which includes a series of protection measures and privileges for the visit of U.S. troops, has been the subject of a thorough review. The agreement establishes rules for the good of both countries – “that is, no base, no permanent presence of U.S. troops,” Teplitz said, adding that Sri Lanka reserves the right to authorize or deny entry to people, ships and planes. Overall, the new Sri Lankan government seems to have a more neutral foreign policy, which avoids putting itself too much on one side or the other in the looming high-power competition in the region. As President Gotabaya Rajapaksa tweeted on 28 October 2020 following a visit by US Secretary of State Pompeo: “Sri Lanka will always maintain a neutral foreign policy position and will not become entangled in the struggles between the power blocs.” If China really wants to turn Hambantota into a long-term active military facility or attract a client to the Rajapaksas, like Prime Minister Hun Sen in Cambodia, this can be seen as a geopolitical setback. Given Rajapaksa`s previously close ties with China and their common authoritarianism, the question remains: why this shift from foreign policy to a balance between India and China? According to the analysis, this new balanced foreign policy in Sri Lanka reflects two impulses: the caution of the population and the elite in the face of external interference and the current lack of capacity to project China`s power.
However, as Samaranayake points out, proposed defence pacts with the United States tend to be controversial in the first place. That is what happened, for example, with India, when the United States followed logistics and communication pacts. “New Delhi has finally concluded these agreements,” she notes. Sri Lankans, however, remain skeptical. Part of the problem lies in the fact that there is “little information in public opinion” about the “specificities” of the agreements. The reason India weighs much more on the head of the Rajapaksas than China lies in the question of the projection of power. In principle, by 2020, China no longer has military capabilities to truly challenge India for the loyalty of the small nations of South Asia. Although a Chinese submarine visited Sri Lanka in 2014, the Navy Liberation Army does not have the ability to challenge the Indian Ocean against the United States, which operates from Diego Garcia and India. Until China has been able to overcome the so-called “Malacca dilemma” through strategic investments such as Pakistan`s CPEC and Myanmar`s CMEC, or if it fails to establish a naval presence in the region, China will not have the ambition to intervene effectively in the Indian Ocean.
As James R. Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara assert in their chapter Deep Currents and Rising Tides: The Indian Ocean and International Security, a permanent Chinese base in the Indian Ocean is a red line for India. Even much-vaunted investments in Pakistan`s Gwadar port “will not necessarily be useful as a basis for a war scenario,” as Wilson Chi argued.No tags for this post.