Wednesday 20 November 2019 5:07 AM UTC

COLOMBO Nov 20: Sri Lanka’s newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would work within the “American perimeter” but will maintain close ties with India while doing business with cash-rich China more cautiously, experts say.

Mr Rajapaksa stormed to victory on Sunday, trouncing his nearest rival Sajith Premadasa by a margin of over 13 lakh votes – 52.25 per cent of votes polled against 41.99 per cent.

The controversial former wartime defence secretary’s victory is of importance for India, which will hope that the new dispensation in Colombo will not allow any foreign power inimical to New Delhi’s interest in the strategically located island nation, experts say.

The experts, who have been closely monitoring Sri Lanka’s diplomatic ties with major global powers for decades, believe that Mr Rajapaksa would not wean away from the US interests in the region.

“Gotabaya would be working within the American perimeter which means that he would adopt a policy of not weaning too much away from the US interests in the region.

The end result of this would be that he would not be seen too pro-China or too anti-India,” Jehan Perera, executive director of National Peace Council, an independent think tank, said.

However, he stated that the new Sri Lankan President would also want to maintain a friendly relation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The experts also believe that Sri Lanka under Gotabaya Rajapaksa would engage China, the country’s top lender. “He would engage China and do business with them. China too would be wary that their previous engagement with the Rajapaksas had created bad publicity for them,” Mr Perera said.

During Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime as Sri Lanka’s President, China started investing heavily in infrastructure projects as the country faced international isolation at the tail end of a brutal civil war.

Sri Lanka has historically been an important commercial hub along maritime routes due to its strategic position in the Indian Ocean, where China is increasingly making its inroads.

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, the executive director of Center for Policy Alternatives, another independent think tank, dismissed the notion that Gotabaya was someone with an overly Chinese leaning.

He thought that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa would function true to his comments made at his inauguration, “We want to remain neutral in our foreign relations and stay out of any conflicts amongst the world powers”.

“He is more of a technocrat, not a politician therefore he would not adopt a stance of over reliance on China, he would want to improve his relations with India,” Mr Saravanamuttu said.