Mar 15, Colombo: The United States must prioritize diplomatic and military engagements with Sri Lanka and provide the island nation with alternatives to the BRI to keep China away for a Free and Open Indo - Pacific, an American conservative think tank says.
Referring to Sri Lankan President's attempt to install former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister via a soft coup in late last year, the Washington, D.C. - based Heritage Foundation warns that a return of the Rajapaksas to power again could jeopardize the recent gains made in Sri Lankan - U.S. relations following the regime change in 2015 and offer China another foothold in the Indian Ocean.
"If mishandled, a return of the Rajapaksas could jeopardize recent gains in Sri Lankan - U.S. relations, offer Beijing another foothold in the Indian Ocean, escalate the rivalry between China and India, and pose a setback for the Trump Administration's regional strategy," Jeff Smith a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation says in a report.
The report "Sri Lanka: A Test Case for the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy" says although the coup failed political forecasters are predicting the return to power by the influential Rajapaksa family in forthcoming elections.
Sri Lankan - U.S. ties have flourished since President Rajapaksa was ousted in 2015 and Sri Lanka has become a new logistics hub for the U.S. Navy in the Indian Ocean.
In the event, the Rajapaksas rise to the power again, the think tank says the U.S. must be prepared to respect the will of the Sri Lankan public - to a limit and hold any future Sri Lankan government accountable to basic democratic and humanitarian standards.
Smith in his report advises the U.S. government to prioritize diplomatic and military engagements with Sri Lanka and leverage regional alliances and new development finance tools to provide Sri Lanka with alternatives to the BRI that value sovereignty, sustainability, transparency, and democratic governance.
Pointing out that Sri Lanka has become more free and open since Rajapaksa's ouster, the researcher says America and Sri Lanka both have an interest in ensuring those trends are not reversed by whatever government comes next.
Read the full report