Sri Lanka needs to foster a strong mutual relationship with Pakistan and China to maintain strong economic and military development.
The need of the hour is that all three countries come together to form a new association so that they all can benefit from each other’s expertise with this new friendship bloc in Asia.
The friendship bloc would be a continuation, evolution and institutionalisation of old prevailing realities. In fact, it would be a practical answer to the challenges of security and economic development member states currently face.
Sri Lanka-Pakistan relations
The foundation of their relationship goes back to 1948 when father of nation of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake met and laid forth the vision for the deepest and closest friendship between both their nation states based on mutual respect.
Sri Lanka-China relations
Sri Lanka and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) accorded each other diplomatic recognition in January 1950. In April 1952 both countries entered into the historic Rubber-Rice Agreement, whereby Sri Lanka supplied rubber to China under a barter arrangement, receiving rice from China in return.
This agreement was entered into at a time when certain countries had imposed a ban on the supply of strategic materials, which included rubber, to China.
Pakistan Sri Lanka Support
When Sri Lanka faced stiff resistance in crushing the foreign-backed and funded Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the world was unwilling to supply it with the kind of weapons it was looking for Pakistan extended immense valuable support to Sri Lanka in this very difficult phase of its national history. Pakistan also assisted Sri Lanka in supplying high-tech military equipment, training and defence advisors.
Shortly after the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka, Pakistan congratulated Sri Lanka and the Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Hussein A. Bhaila of Sri Lanka said: “The Government and the people of Sri Lanka have considered Pakistan as a true friend of Sri Lanka, which has always stood by it in times of need.”
China-Sri Lanka support
As the West condemned Sri Lanka, the US withdrew all funding from the county and part of India wanted to impose economic sanctions, China stood by Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has expressed unwavering support for China’s ‘One China’ policy. It has consistently supported China at the UN. Both countries have been cooperating in multilateral foray on various bilateral and international issues. In 1996, Sri Lanka welcomed the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong to China and had representation at the Hong Kong handover in July 1997.
Sri Lanka-Pakistan trade
Pakistan is the second largest trading partner of Sri Lanka in South Asia. Sri Lanka was the first country to sign a Free Trade Agreement with Pakistan, which became operational from 12 June 2005. A total of 4,000 items can be imported to Pakistan from Sri Lanka.
Bilateral trade between the two countries was US$ 400 million in early 2010, and is expected to increase to US$ 2 billion by 2012.
In November 2010, President Asif Ali Zardari mulled a 250 million dollar export credit line that Pakistan would extend to Sri Lanka. Trade between the two countries reached $ 500 million by the end of 2010.
Sri Lanka-China trade
Trade relations between the two countries were formalised by the signing of a General Trade Agreement and Trade and Payment Agreement in 1952. In 1982 both countries signed a Trade Agreement with a view to setting up a Joint Trade Committee.
In 1984 an Agreement on Economic and Trade Cooperation was signed. In 1991 the two Joint Committees formed under the Agreement of 1982 and 1984 were amalgamated to constitute the Sri Lanka-China Joint Commission for Economic and Trade Cooperation.
Sri Lanka-Pakistan cooperation
Pakistan and Sri Lanka enjoy convergence of views on almost all matters of regional and international significance. The two countries had been closely cooperating in multilateral forums, including South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
It is nevertheless discouraging that SAARC had not been able to move beyond a certain point although Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been playing a very active role in making SAARC an effective and result-oriented organisation.
MoUs have been signed between Sri Lanka and Pakistan to cooperate on tourism and archaeology, which is expected to open a new window of opportunity for both countries. 70 percent of the Sri Lankan population is Buddhist and Pakistan has loaned Buddhist relics to Sri Lanka for displaying at the Colombo Museum.
Sri Lanka-China cooperation
The most prominent symbol of Chinese cooperation assistance to Sri Lanka remains the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH), which is an enduring monument to Sri Lanka-China relations.
China has also funded several other projects including the Supreme Courts Complex, the Central Main Telecommunication Exchange, the Gin Ganga Flood Protection Scheme and the re-development of the Lady Ridgeway Children’s Hospital, among others.
Since 2007, China has featured prominently in Sri Lanka’s socioeconomic development efforts by funding key infrastructural projects. These include the Norochcholai (Puttalam) Power Project, the Hambantota Port and Airport and the Colombo-Katunayake Express Way.
The Performing Arts Theatre is another key project that has commenced in Sri Lanka with Chinese assistance, which upon completion will stand as a symbol of enhancing 50 years of friendship between the two countries.
Major possible areas of cooperation
Major possible areas of cooperation are people-to-people contacts, political affairs, military cooperation, security cooperation, international legal and judicial cooperation, information, communication and media, economic cooperation, science and technology, cooperation in the field of human and environment affairs, economic relations with the other countries and economic groupings, social welfare and development, tourism, common market and disaster management.
The national interest of a state is the state’s survival and security. Also important are the pursuit of wealth, economic growth and the future of its people. As the saying goes, ‘One loyal friend is worth ten thousand’. In this region Sri Lanka has two – Pakistan and China.
(Mobisher Rabbani is a Diplomatic Consultant, Humanitarian, Columnist, President of the Overseas Pakistanis-Sri Lankans Society and was a speaker at the Kotelawala Defence University Symposium 2011.)