Sri Lanka will adopt an “India first approach” as its new foreign policy plank and protect New Delhi’s strategic security interests, the country’s Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage has said as he sought to allay concerns amid China’s growing presence in the island nation.
Admiral Colombage became the first-ever foreign secretary from a military background when he was appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to head the Foreign Ministry on August 14.
In an interview published by Daily Mirror on Wednesday, Colombage said Sri Lanka is to adopt an ‘India first approach’ as its new regional foreign policy plank.
“That means Sri Lanka will not do anything harmful to India’s strategic security interests,” said Colombage, who was the chief of the Sri Lanka Navy between 2012-14 and later became a foreign policy analyst mostly on the Chinese initiatives in Sri Lanka and the immediate region.
Colombage said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would have an India first approach as the key to strategic security.
”China is the second-largest economy and India is considered the sixth-largest. In 2018 India was the world’s fastest-growing economy. That means we are between two economic giants,” he said.
“Sri Lanka cannot afford, should not afford and will not afford any particular country to use it as a staging area to do anything against another country, especially so India,” he said.
Commenting on the Chinese investment in the southern port of Hambantota, Colombage says that Sri Lanka had offered India Hambantota first.
India did not undertake it for whatever reason, then it went to a Chinese company, he said.
Now we have given 85 per cent stake of Hambantota port to China Merchant Holding Company. That should be limited to commercial activities. It is zero for military purposes,” he said.
Colombage said that despite opposition from port worker trade unions, President Rajapaksa would go ahead with the memorandum of cooperation signed with India on the Colombo Port’s Eastern terminal.
Colombo Port is the largest and busiest port in Sri Lanka. Located on the southwestern shores on the Kelani River, it serves as an important terminal in Asia due to its strategic location in the Indian Ocean.
The previous Sirisena government had signed a “memorandum of cooperation” (MOC) with India and Japan for a tripartite effort to develop the terminal which is located just next to the USD 500 million Chinese-run Colombo International Container Terminal.
”The President has said that he is ready to honour the agreement. As per the new guidance of the President, no national asset is given with total control to any country,” he said.
Colombage said that the Rajapaksa foreign policy shift would mean that Sri Lanka would not be anymore reliant on a West-oriented policy.
The most dynamic foreign office officials would be posted in Sri Lanka’s neighbourhood, in the Middle East, Bangladesh, Africa and ASEAN in line with the new foreign policy shift where the emphasis would be on the neighbourhood.
China has been making significant forays into Sri Lanka, especially in the defence field. Beijing’s activities have caused regional concerns, especially in India.
Sri Lankan in 2017 handed over the Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease. There are regional concerns, mostly from India, that China may make a military presence at Hambantota, located on a key sea international shipping route.
US Northeast digs out after massive snow storm, Two dead
People across the U.S. Northeast were digging themselves out on Tuesday after a powerful storm blanketed parts of the region with more than 2 feet of snow, prompting airlines to cancel flights and contributing to at least two deaths.
The nor`easter – an East Coast storm whose winds blow from the northeast – cut power to thousands of households, and halted some subway and train service in and around New York City. It dropped about 30 inches (76 cm) of snow in parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania and up to 18 inches (46 cm) in New York City.
The snowy weather was expected to continue in parts of the Northeast, with a stretch from upstate New York to northern Maine hit the hardest, the National Weather Service said in its latest forecast on Tuesday. Snow could develop in the Upper Midwest on Wednesday before the storm runs its course, it said.
In Allentown, Pennsylvania, a 67-year-old woman suffering from Alzheimer`s disease was found lying dead in the snow on Monday after wandering away from her home, police said.
A man in Newark, New Jersey, died after being found lying in the snow on Monday, according to police officials, who said the death was not considered suspicious.
In New York City, public transit was coming back to life. Outdoor subway service, which had been suspended, resumed, buses were running on reduced schedules, and the area`s major commuter railroads had resumed partial or full operations.
The city`s LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport, where flights were canceled on Monday, both said they were working to clear the snow and that they expected activity to pick up later on Tuesday.
The storm prompted widespread closings of schools and COVID-19 vaccination sites. In Connecticut, about 10,000 vaccination appointments were canceled on Monday, with plans to reschedule them for later this week.
Putin Ordered To Begin Large-scale Coronavirus Vaccination in Russia
MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin ordered a large-scale voluntary vaccination program against COVID-19 coronavirus to begin next week across Russia, saying teachers and doctors should be first in line to get the country’s flagship Sputnik V vaccine. Putin gave the order during an online meeting with ministers on Wednesday, a day when Russia, which has the fourth-highest number of recorded infections in the world, registered 589 new daily deaths from the coronavirus.
Putin said Russia will have produced 2 million vaccine doses within the next few days. Sputnik V, one of two Russian-made vaccines to have received domestic regulatory approval so far despite clinical trials being incomplete, requires two injections. A third vaccine is also in the works. Russia said last month that the Sputnik jab was 92% effective at protecting people from COVID-19 according to interim results. “Let’s agree on this – you will not report to me next week, but you will start large-scale vaccination… Let’s get to work already,” Putin told Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova. “I understand that you’re using very careful language and it’s absolutely right that we are cautious. But I know that industry and the (health) network are in general ready. Let’s take this first step.” Russia has already vaccinated more than 100,000 high-risk people, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said during a separate presentation to the United Nations about Sputnik V.
According to the presentation, more than 45,000 people are currently participating in Sputnik V trials worldwide. The rise in infections in Russia has slowed since reaching a high on Nov. 27, with 25,345 new daily cases reported on Wednesday. Russia has resisted imposing lockdowns during the second wave of the virus, preferring targeted regional curbs. ‘ABSOLUTE PRIORITY’ The Kremlin earlier gave assurances that Russians were first in line to be vaccinated, with Moscow also discussing supply deals with other countries. “The absolute priority is Russians,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “Production within Russia, which is already being developed, will meet the needs of Russians.” Authorities in St Petersburg, which reported 3,684 new infections on Wednesday, ordered bars and restaurants to close from Dec. 30 until Jan. 3, to combat the rise in cases there, the RIA news agency reported.
Museums, theatres, and concert halls would be closed to the public in the city of more than 5 million people for the duration of Russia’s New Year holidays, from Dec. 30 to Jan. 10. In Moscow, a remote learning period for secondary school students was extended beyond Dec. 6 to the end of the year. With 2,347,401 infections, Russia only has fewer COVID-19 cases than the United States, India, and Brazil. It has recorded 41,053 deaths related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
Iran Mulls Response as it Prepares to Bury Killed Nuclear Scientist
Debate raged in Iran on Sunday over how and when to respond to a top nuclear scientist’s assassination, blamed on arch-foe Israel, as his body was honoured at Shiite shrines to prepare it for burial.
Two days after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh died from wounds sustained in a firefight between his guards and unidentified gunmen near Tehran, parliament demanded a halt to international inspections of Iranian nuclear sites while a top official hinted Iran should leave the global non-proliferation treaty.
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council usually handles decisions related to the country’s nuclear programme, and parliamentary bills must be approved by the powerful Guardians Council.
President Hassan Rouhani has stressed the country will seek its revenge in “due time” and not be rushed into a “trap”.
Israel says Fakhrizadeh was the head of an Iranian military nuclear programme, the existence of which the Islamic republic has consistently denied, and Washington had sanctioned him in 2008 for activities linked to Iran’s atomic activities.
The scientist’s body was taken for a ceremony on Sunday at a major shrine in the holy city of Qom before being transported to the shrine of the Islamic republic’s founder Imam Khomeini, according to Iranian media.
Fakhrizadeh’s funeral will be held Monday in the presence of senior military commanders and his family, the defence ministry said on its website, without specifying where.
Israel has not officially commented on Fakhrizadeh’s killing, less than two months before US President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office after four years of hawkish foreign policy under President Donald Trump.