Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s Crisis Recovery: A Strategic Foreign Policy Approach

Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe attended the United Nations General Assembly in the US in September 2023, emphasizing the need for climate finance and international solidarity for smaller, climate-vulnerable, and debt-inflicted countries like Sri Lanka.

He called on developed countries to help and share responsibility in restructuring the international financial system to address climate change and ensure sustainable development. Wickremesinghe stressed the importance of international rules-based cooperation and multilateral platforms, including international trade and ocean governance.

Sri Lanka became the Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) in September 2023, succeeding Bangladesh. The IORA Council of Ministers meeting in Colombo on 11 October 2023 will deliberate on key areas of cooperation, including trade and investment, maritime safety and security, fisheries management, disaster risk management, and the blue economy. Wickremesinghe acknowledged the Indo-Pacific concept’s traction due to China’s challenges and re-evaluated regional dynamics and cooperation by IORA members.

He emphasized the need for the IORA to accommodate the Indo-Pacific concept, recognising the interconnectedness of the Indian and Pacific Oceans and enabling cooperation among small island states in both regions.

Sri Lanka’s foreign relations are influenced by its recovery from the national economic crisis in 2022, which has led to a single-digit inflation rate and a foreign reserve of only US$3.6 billion. The government has been working with bilateral creditors and institutional investors to address the country’s economic situation.

However, the country’s failure to secure a concrete debt relief framework from China, its largest bilateral lender, is cited as one reason for a delayed second payment of US$330 million. The IMF’s review also revealed that despite economic reforms, revenue targets have fallen short of initial projections by around 15%.

Sri Lanka has had to manage its key geopolitical relations, with concerns raised by India and the US over Chinese ships docking at Sri Lanka’s ports. Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Ali Sabry stated that the Chinese vessel Shi Yan 6 was not allowed due to Indian security concerns.

Sri Lanka’s efforts to appease India were evident in the recent India-Canada controversy, where the foreign minister linked the unfolding bilateral episode to Sri Lanka’s experience with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Canadian government’s perpetuation of the narrative that a genocide was committed during Sri Lanka’s civil war.

Sri Lanka’s President Wickremesinghe has emphasized the importance of building inclusive futures and recognizing the interconnected nature of global and regional threats. He dismissed concerns that the visit by a Chinese “spy ship” was a Chinese “spy ship” and stressed the routine nature of the visit by a “research vessel”.

Wickremesinghe also highlighted the reluctance of island nations in the Indian Ocean and South Pacific to get caught in major power disputes, as they have their own interests and sovereignty to protect.

The Sri Lankan government and political leadership recognize the growing challenges to ‘nonaligned’ countries in the Global South, emphasizing the need to recognize the interconnected nature of these threats and work towards a more inclusive future.

Foreign policyIndian OceanSri LankaSri Lanka President Ranil WickremesingheSri Lanka's Crisis Recovery: A Strategic Foreign Policy Approach