Taiwan-China tensions: SL will not support use of force says Balasuriya

By Aazam Ameen


As tensions in the East China Sea between Taiwan and China have heightened in the recent past with Chinese President Xi Jinping stating that “reunification” with Taiwan “must be fulfilled”, Sri Lanka will not support China’s claimed use of force to achieve their objectives, The Morning learns.

Speaking to The Morning, State Minister of Regional Cooperation Tharaka Balasuriya expressed the same.

“It must be emphasised that Sri Lanka believes in the One China Policy. However, we will not support violence as a means of achieving one’s objectives, whether such violence stems from a terrorist organisation or an individual country,” he said.

Earlier last week at an event marking the 110th anniversary of the revolution that overthrew China’s last imperial dynasty in 1911, Xi stated that unification should be achieved peacefully, but warned that the Chinese people had a “glorious tradition” of opposing separatism.

Despite this, Beijing has not ruled out the possible use of force to achieve unification. “No one should underestimate the Chinese people’s staunch determination, firm will, and strong ability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The historical task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be fulfilled, and will definitely be fulfilled,” Xi further stated.

In response to this, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said during her National Day address that the island would not “act rashly” but would bolster its defences to “ensure that nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us”. That path, she said, offered “neither a free and democratic way of life for Taiwan nor sovereignty” for its 23 million people. “The more we achieve, the greater the pressure we face from China,” she said.

Given the fact that the United States has made numerous hints that it will come to Taiwan’s aid in the event of Chinese military intervention for the purpose of reunification, Balasuriya told The Morning that such an event will not affect Sri Lanka’s neutral and non-aligned foreign policy, even though both China and the US are strong allies of Sri Lanka.

“I do not think that such military actions will take place. Political analysts also share the same stance. However, in the unlikely event that it does, Sri Lanka will continue to maintain a neutral policy. Several other countries have managed to do this in times of war, Switzerland is a good example,” he said.

Balasuriya added that Sri Lanka is a small country, and if such a war breaks out, it would make no sense for Sri Lanka to align with one country. Further to this, he added Sri Lanka’s location must be leveraged in order to have more economic diplomacy with the world at large.

“Improving this will further help us to remain neutral. We have multiple investments coming in from the world’s superpowers. It would not make sense for them to force Sri Lanka to align with them,” Balasuriya explained.

When queried as to if the US or China will use a mechanism of leverage to ensure Sri Lanka aligns with one of them, as they both have vested interests in Sri Lanka, Balasuriya responded by saying, “Each country will act on its own vested interests. Sri Lanka too must act on its own vested interests as well,”

In terms of Sri Lanka’s support of the One China Policy, it was made clear that the same has always been Sri Lanka’s stance on the Taiwan-China issue.

“This has always been our stance. When Chiang Kai-shek fled to Formosa as it was called back then, everybody accepted even at that time that China was still one country. In the same sense when Germany was divided, everybody viewed it as one nation which was divided purely for political purposes. The same can be said about the Korean peninsula as well,” Balasuriya stated.

Even though only 15 nations recognise and maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan over China, several countries including India and the United States maintain de facto embassies often referred to as “trade offices” or “cultural centres” with Taiwan. When posed with the question of if Sri Lanka has plans to establish the same, Balasuriya said that a process of weighing out “pros and cons” needs to take place first.

“Before having such a mechanism, we need to understand the pros and cons first. We might also have other measures to be taken first. We are not a very rich country so we need to be mindful of where we open missions. For example, 5,000 Sri Lankans are working in Romania, yet we do not have a mission there. Our presence in Africa has to be enhanced as well. Why would we want to put Taiwan at the top of the agenda? I’m not too sure about this,” he explained. 

When asked if the potential for China to intervene and stop the process if Sri Lanka does perform such evaluations and decides to maintain a de facto representative office with Taiwan, Balasuriya responded by saying that speculations should not be made when it comes to foreign policy, and that Sri Lanka should not worry about such a situation.

As of now, the only Taiwanese representative trade office in Sri Lanka is the Taipei World Trade Center Liaison Office in Colombo which is a non-profit trade promotion agency which offers bilateral trade and investment consultation services and organises trade promotion activities.