A more “proactive” role in Sri Lanka is looming for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). The discussion forum between the United States, Japan, Australia and India is poised to provide aid to the country, grappling with the worst political-economic crisis in the post-independence era.
Economic and political analysts told AsiaNews that Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have agreed to work together to assist the island nation. Japan’s initiative comes despite Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa canceling a .5 billion project funded by Tokyo to build a light rail in Colombo in September 2020.
Last year, the Rajapaksa administration then excluded Japan and India from a project to jointly develop a container terminal at the capital’s port, causing high diplomatic tensions. Friction with Delhi over the issue partly disappeared after India’s Adani Group won a contract to develop another terminal at the same port.
From the U.S. perspective, the Quad can help prevent Sri Lanka’s economic implosion, a scenario that in turn could trigger a humanitarian crisis with broader, destabilizing regional impacts. U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Menendez revealed last month that Washington “is preparing long-term economic support” for Colombo, while Tokyo is providing food assistance to the crisis-ridden country.
According to Menendez, the Quad could do more by also providing badly needed fuel and offering technical support and advice in the areas of financial accounting, health care, food security and macroeconomic policy.
In Washington’s eyes, the Rajapaksas have brought Sri Lanka to the brink of financial ruin and humanitarian catastrophe. Mahinda Rajapaksa, first as president and then as prime minister, led the country straight into the Chinese “debt trap.” His brother Gotabaya then failed to take the necessary economic measures to avoid a default on sovereign debt. Today Sri Lankans of all backgrounds are calling for change, starting with the resignation of the current president.
About 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s billion foreign debt is owed to China, and Colombo is struggling to repay some of its loans from Chinese banks. Political analysts note that “the Rajapaksas are seen as very much bent toward China,” while the Chinese presence near Indian shores is seen by Delhi as “a strategic headache.”
Beijing is troubled by the Quad, considered by Xi Jinping to be the embryo of an “Asian NATO.” Referring to the Quad’s activism regarding Sri Lanka, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said there is never a shortage of newsworthy ideas: “They are like the foam in the Pacific Ocean or the Indian Ocean, which may attract attention, but they soon dissipate.”