Sri Lanka's geopolitical and regional importance: Talks with India, China, France and Japan in one week

Wickremesinghe’s visit to New Delhi, and the subsequent visits of the senior Chinese party functionary, the French president, and the Japanese foreign minister signal a renewed thrust by the global and regional powers to reinvigorate their influence in the Indian Ocean Region where Sri Lanka's strategic geographical location makes it a pivotal player.

Sugeeswara Senadhira Jul 31, 2023
French President Emmanuel Macron with Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe (Photo: Twitter)

Global and regional powers – both political and economic - have always taken a keen interest in Sri Lanka and its relations with other countries. This geopolitical importance of Sri Lanka became all the more evident in the last fortnight as the leaders of this island nation held detailed discussions with, not one or two, but four world leaders.

It began with President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s two-day visit to New Delhi for discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a whole range of areas from Indian investments in the energy sector, railways, ports and aviation in addition to the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution and holding of much-delayed provincial council elections.

Wickremesinghe returned to Colombo on the late night of July 28 and learned that a top Chinese Communist Party politburo member was waiting to meet him the following morning. In this significant diplomatic engagement, President Wickremesinghe presented Sri Lanka’s ambitious development plans with a primary focus on enhancing connectivity with the rest of Asia to Dr. Yuan Jiajun, member of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau and Secretary of the CPC Chongqing Municipal Committee.

He outlined how these plans would foster economic growth and facilitate increased trade and investment opportunities. He also briefed the high-level Chinese delegation on the commendable progress being made in the country’s debt restructuring efforts. He expressed his confidence that upon successful completion of the restructuring, several halted development projects would resume promptly, further bolstering the nation’s economic development.

Stabilising Sri Lanka's economy

This is of high significance, as China has not joined the other donors such as India, Europe, United States and Japan in their talks with International Monetary Fund (IMF). In fact, India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman last week asked China, as a large creditor to Sri Lanka, to join the effort steered by Japan, India and France to help Colombo tide over its debt distress.

However, Dr Jiajun, while appreciating the government's steadfast efforts to stabilize Sri Lanka’s economy amid challenging circumstances expressed optimism and confidence in the country’s future economic growth trajectory.

Before the week was over two other top visitors landed in Colombo. French President Emmanuel Macron, paid an official visit to Colombo for a few hours while travelling to Papua New Guinea after short visits to New Caledonia and Vanuatu. 

Increased military cooperation between France and Sri Lanka and financing the global challenge to climate change without interrupting the United Nations 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty and protect the planet were among the other highlights of the Wikremesinghe-Macron summit held midnight on July 28.

Free and open Indo Pacific 

Macron invited Sri Lanka to join the French-initiated Indian Ocean Commission (Commission de l’ocean Indien), an intergovernmental organisation that links five African Indian Ocean member-states as an observer. The Indian Ocean Commission set up in 1982 has seven observers so far — China, the European Union, the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, India, Japan, Malta and the United Nations. Sri Lanka will be the eighth.

On Saturday morning Wickremesinghe held discussions with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi. These talks largely centered around the geopolitical climate in the Indian Ocean. Both visiting leaders recognised the importance of the Indo-Pacific region, of which Sri Lanka is situated at a strategic point, being a primary theatre of concern for world peace and stability.

Macron pledged to provide his government’s support through the Paris Club Secretariat for Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring process. An office of the French Agency for Development (AFD) is also to be opened in Sri Lanka.

Hayashi during his talks with Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said that Sri Lanka is an important partner in Japan’s plans for a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ (FIOP) and that it “attaches importance to cooperation” with the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). Sri Lanka is the chair of the IORA, a separate 23-member state intergovernmental organisation with 10 dialogue partners, including India.

Supporting small states

Wickremesinghe’s visit to New Delhi, and the subsequent visits of the senior Chinese party functionary, the French president, and the Japanese foreign minister signal a renewed thrust by the global and regional powers to reinvigorate their influence in the Indo-Pacific region where Sri Lanka's strategic geographical location make it pivotal player.

Political analysts are of the view that Macron was reaching out to the Pacific island states, denouncing the “new imperialism” emerging in the region (without naming any one country). However, though France is a NATO member, keeps lines open with Russia and China. Paris wants Europe to maintain some distance from US foreign policy agendas and support small states that wish to remain neutral in global power politics, to stay that way.

Analysts also believe that Hayashi visited Sri Lanka to reaffirm the Japanese government’s desire to reignite what was once an extremely close relationship, which had seen a decline in the last few years. PM Gunawardena, in his talks, acknowledged that Colombo had made some mistakes in the last few years and urged Japan to resume ongoing and proposed projects in Sri Lanka.

(The author is Advisor (Media) to the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. Views are personal. He can be contacted at

Post a Comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.