US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s decision to cancel his visit to Colombo on Thursday has more to do with rising local sentiments against a proposed American military base in Sri Lanka than scheduling issues, people tracking the developments said.
The US mission in Colombo cited “scheduling issues” over the cancellation of the June 27 trip that was aimed at showing solidarity with victims of terror attacks. It said the secretary of state “hopes to travel to Sri Lanka at a later date.”
Pompeo was to travel to Sri Lanka on a short visit, scheduled between his Delhi trip and a visit to Osaka, accompanying President Donald Trump for the June 28-29 G-20 summit. He was hoping to discuss issues relating to counter-terrorism, freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific region, and the use of $480 million American Millennium Challenge Corporation Fund with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The United States is keen to have a strategic presence in Lanka amid China’s growing role in the Indian Ocean Region, including wide-ranging support for Colombo’s infrastructure projects under the Belt and Road Initiative. There are fears that the Hambantota port may be used for the People’s Liberation Army Navy in the future as Chinese submarines had docked in Lankan ports during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime.
ET has learned that members of President Maithripala Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party are opposed to the presence of any American troops or base in the island nation. The rising sentiment against US plans is understood to have shaped Pompeo’s decision to cancel the Lanka leg of the visit, sources in Colombo indicated.