by Our Diplomatic Affairs Editor
Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe took centre stage at the Islands Dialogue conference held on the sidelines of the U.N.’s General Assembly meetings, where he assailed the AUKUS pact as a “military alliance” and cautioned that it could backfire on the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
Addressing leaders from Pacific island nations at the conference hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, President Wickremesinghe expressed his reservations about the AUKUS agreement, a trilateral partnership between the U.S., Australia, and the U.K. The pact, officially characterized by the three nations as a technology-sharing agreement aims to share submarine-related technology and other capabilities.
President Wickremesinghe, whose country has been viewed as falling victim to predatory loans from Chinese state-backed firms, argued that the AUKUS pact was an unnecessary arrangement that could have adverse consequences. He stated, “I think it’s a strategic misstep, and I think they made a mistake,” while also suggesting that the pact was primarily aimed at countering China, although he did not explicitly mention the country’s name.
The Sri Lankan president’s comments underscored the challenges faced by Washington in persuading non-Western countries, sceptical of joining efforts to push back against China’s activities. He positioned Sri Lanka as taking a middle ground between the U.S. and China to staunchly advance its national interests.
President Wickremesinghe also disputed claims made by the Indian government that the Chinese ship Yuan Wang 5, which docked in Sri Lanka in August 2022, was a spy vessel. He contended that it was a research vessel and that his government had established a standard operating procedure for such ships.
Furthermore, he denied any military connection to a new port in Sri Lanka backed by the Chinese state-owned firm China Merchants Group, refuting concerns about its strategic implications.
Reflecting on the shifting dynamics of great-power blocs throughout his lifetime, President Wickremesinghe remarked, “I have seen China and the U.S. taking on India and Russia. Now I’m seeing the U.S. and India taking on Russia and China.”
President Wickremesinghe’s comments at the Islands Dialogue conference have ignited a broader debate about the nature and implications of the AUKUS pact, further highlighting the complex geopolitical landscape in the Asia-Pacific region.