‘China has a lot of interest in South Asia’, says Lankan PM Ranil Wickremesinghe

Colombo: WION India’s first and only international news channel, spoke exclusively to Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe as part of the channel’s flagship Global Leadership Series hosted by Palki Sharma Upadhyay, Managing Editor of WION.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that China has not shifted its focus on Southeast Asia and continues to be interested in South Asia.

Speaking exclusively to WION’S Managing Editor Palki Sharma Upadhyay, the Prime Minister said ‘China has a lot of interest in the region, and you [India] will know better than us with the Himalayan border… I don’t think they have lifted their interest in (sic) South Asia, in Sri Lanka, in the Islands, in the Maldives, Seychelles, I think the interest is still there, otherwise, you [India] would not be moving troops around in Ladakh ‘.

Insisting that China has not abandoned Sri Lanka, Wickremesinghe said ‘we focused on India [for initial assistance], I don’t think we could get much from China or Japan… we decided we will go along with India because India came up with the money first, it’s a question of who had less red tape’, adding that he will call Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to thank him for assistance.

Speaking about the politics at home, the Lankan Prime Minister said that has not faced any interference from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

 ‘I am not a CEO [appointed by the Rajapaksas]; I am a Prime Minister… I am an Independent Prime Minister… There is no interference [from Gotabaya Rajapaksa], if there are any differences, we have to sort it out in the cabinet’, Wickremesinghe said, adding that indeed ‘there are differences of opinion…’.

The Prime Minister said Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be bringing in the 21st Amendment that empowers Parliament over the executive President. ‘There were earlier (sic) disagreements [on the 21st Amendment] within the ruling party, but this [agreement] was finally brought in… so far there has been no adverse reaction. The Prime Minister said he believes that Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) will be on board, and he’s certainly the President too. ‘It was still to his advantage, not to his disadvantage’, Wickremesinghe remarked.

Calling the economic crisis ‘man-made’, Wickremesinghe said that the responsibility lies with the politicians, and the Mahinda Rajapaksa government.

About President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, The Sri Lankan Prime Minister said, ‘he has publicly taken the blame, not once but twice, he’s not leaving office, you can’t throw him out of office… Under the proposals put by the bi-associations, there is no need for him [Gotabaya Rajapaksa] to leave office.

The six-time Prime Minister said that his current stint is ‘the most-challenging job I’ve ever had… someone had to take up the challenge to put the country’s economy into order’.  Wickremesinghe was first elected to office in 1994, he’s currently 73.

‘What’s wrong with 73?’, the veteran leader asked, ‘After I took it [job] over, someone sent me a note and they said that Deng Xiaoping also started at 73, I am not the Deng Xiaoping of Sri Lanka’. 

The Sri Lankan Prime Minister said, ‘stabilisation and recovery will take about 18 months’, adding that the road ahead will include consensus-driven economic proposals, and 21st Amendment.

The full interview will air on June 12 at 9 PM IST on WION, World Is One.

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