Between Two Giants: Sri Lanka in the Asian Century

EVENT: 6pm Thurs 20 June – More often than not the perception of Sri Lanka in Australia is of a country that plays one of our great games, cricket, and is the source of a large number of seafaring asylum seekers – some of them claiming to be fleeing persecution, others clearly economic migrants.

But Sri Lanka occupies a key strategic position in what is fast being acknowledged as the world’s most important seaway – the Indian Ocean. In Sri Lanka, the Chinese have funded, built and established a vast new deep-water port on the south of the island state that has fuelled concerns in Delhi and Washington.

Sri Lanka is seen by many as the focus of a contest for influence between Delhi and Beijing. India is particularly concerned about the so-called “string of pearls” – a chain of deepwater ports built with Chinese aid along the Indian Ocean rim.

But the counterpoint is that Beijing needs to safeguard its access to oil: “China imports 200m tonnes of oil each year and 80% of that travels across the Indian Ocean. Last week Chinese-Sri Lankan cooperation continued, with China offering almost $2.2 billion in loans for infrastructure projects.

Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, Professor G.L. Peiris, who also announced a defence agreement with China and held out the prospect of a free trade agreement, has been at pains to point out that these deals will not be done at the expense of or risk to any other country.

So what is Sri Lanka’s long-term strategy? Who does it see as its friends in the Asian century? What importance does it attach to relations with Australia and with ASEAN?

AIIA NSW is delighted to welcome Professor Peiris to the Glover Cottages during his brief official visit to Australia. He is the second ranking foreign minister we have welcomed in just a few weeks, and his message will be an important one. Space will be limited so please reserve your seat for this premium event now.

Professor G.L. Peiris is a Sri Lankan politician with a strong academic background. After graduating in law and becoming a Rhodes scholar, he went on to become a Professor of Law and the Dean of the Faculty of Law before taking office as the second Vice-Chancellor of the University of Colombo following the assassination of Prof. Stanley Wijesundera during the height of the 1987–89 JVP Insurrection. He served as vice-chancellor from 1988 to 1994 until leaving to take up politics.

Professor Peiris became a close confidant of the former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who appointed him as a national list member of the parliament following the 1994 election. Thereafter, Mrs Kumaratunga, then Prime Minister, appointed him as Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and Deputy Minister of Finance. He was also given the portfolio of External Trade. In a subsequent Cabinet reshuffle, he was given two additional portfolios—Ethnic Affairs and National Integration—which were hitherto held by the President.

However, in 2001, he had disagreements with President Kumaratunga and defected to the opposition, effectively bringing down the government. He joined the opposition United National Party led United National Front (UNF), which captured power in the subsequent general election. When the UNF government headed by the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe engaged in peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Peiris was appointed as the chief negotiator. In 2007 the current President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, appointed him Minister of Export Development and International Trade and then in 2010 appointed him Minister of External Affairs of Sri Lanka.

PREMIUM EVENT  Non members $35

Members: $15.00; senior/student members $10.00



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