Foreign policy and defense
Under the leftist Rajapaksa government
(2005–2015), Sri Lanka gradually approached China and
eventually became heavily indebted to Beijing.
Cooperation continued under President Sirisena, who,
however, initially sought to reduce dependence on China.
After the end of the civil war in 2009, Sri Lanka has
been on a collision course with the UN and the Western
world, demanding that the country go to the bottom with
allegations of serious war crimes.
During the Cold War, Sri Lanka was a leading country
in the so-called alliance-free movement, although the
principle of freedom of alliance has been interpreted in
different ways by different governments. Right-wing UNP
governments have usually had a more Western-friendly
attitude than the more left-leaning SLFP governments,
which have won a friendly relationship with China, among
Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Sri Lanka for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
After the end of the Cold War, the importance of
alliance-free status diminished. Instead, Sri Lanka's
main foreign policy issue was to try to persuade the
outside world to distance itself from the separatists in
the country, the so-called Tamil Liberation Tigers (LTTE).
Tight relationship with the western world
In the US, Canada and the EU, there were large groups
of exile Tamils during the war, and the Lankan
government believed that many of them contributed
financially to the LTTE guerrillas. The United States
labeled the "Tamil Tigers" as a terrorist group in 1997
and the EU followed after 2006. The terrorist stamp was
a financial setback for LTTE, as economic assets were
frozen and guerrilla leaders were barred from entering
the countries in question.
After the war, the suspicions of war crimes have,
above all, negatively affected Sri Lanka's traditionally
good relations with the United States, as the United
States has been driving behind resolutions adopted by
the UN Human Rights Council. In the spring of 2012, the
United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution
calling on Sri Lanka to conduct an independent
investigation into the allegations of war crimes at the
end of the civil war. Since Rajapaksa rejected the UN
injunction, the Council repeated its call for new
resolutions in 2013 and 2014. When these were also
rejected by Sri Lanka, the Council proposed an
international investigation. Sri Lanka dismissed the
claims as "neo-colonialism".
When the Sirisena government took office in 2015, the
US and the rest of the Western world came closer. On a
visit to Sri Lanka in May of the same year, US Secretary
of State John Kerry praised Sirisena's quest for
reconciliation with the Tamils. But despite promises of
war crimes investigations, nothing concrete has happened
during the time of the Sirisans in power.
Strong ties to India
Sri Lanka has strong historical and cultural ties to
India which has a large Tamil population. Among the
Indian Tamils who mainly live in the state of Tamil
Nadu in southern India, many are committed to the cause
of the Tamil people.
Relations between the countries were long strained by
India supporting the struggle of the Sri Lankan Tamils.
However, after India's failed involvement in the Sri
Lankan civil conflict in the late 1980s (see Modern
History), the New Delhi government took a more cautious
stance. When the LTTE then ordered the assassination of
the former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991,
the guerrillas lost their support and the two countries
saw a common enemy in the Tamil extremist group.
After the war, India has been heavily involved in
rebuilding the Tamil-dominated areas in the north, among
other things by financing house construction and lending
money for road, bridge and other infrastructure repairs.
India is Sri Lanka's largest trading partner and has
also invested in the energy sector.
In 2012-2013, the condition was strained by India
voting for the UN resolutions mentioned above. India's
position was decided by then a Tamil Nadu-based party
sitting in the Indian coalition government. India now
stands on Sri Lanka's side in the UN Human Rights
President Sirisena's first state visit in February
2015 went to India, and diplomatic and trade relations
between the two countries have been strengthened during
Sirisen's time in power. India maintained a low profile
during the political crisis that erupted in Sri Lanka in
the fall of 2018, when a power struggle at the highest
political level paralyzed large parts of the state
leadership (see Current Politics).
Dependent on China
When relations with the West deteriorated during the
Rajapaksa government, Sri Lanka turned its eyes on other
countries, primarily China but also Russia and Iran.
Relations with China were significantly strengthened
during Rajapaksa's time as president. China has invested
a lot of money in Sri Lanka, especially in the energy
and infrastructure sectors. Among other things, a harbor
and an airport have been built in President Rajapaksa's
home province of Hambantota.
The Sirisena government first tried to distance
itself from China, including interrupting a major
Chinese-funded infrastructure project in the port of
Colombia. In 2016, however, the project was resumed,
which was completed in 2019. At the end of 2017, China
was allowed to lease the port of Hambantota for 99 years
as part of Beijing's major infrastructure initiative BRI
(Belt and Road Initiative, or New Silk Road). In
exchange, Sri Lanka got some of its loans to Beijing
When it comes to conflict with the UN, China is a
reliable partner. China, as a rule, emphasizes the right
of all countries to manage their own affairs without
external interference. Consequently, China has voted
against the resolutions adopted by the UN Human Rights
Council on Sri Lanka.
Good relationship with Pakistan
Pakistan, too (like Russia) has stood on Sri Lanka's
side in the conflict with the UN. Pakistan assisted the
Lankan government with large quantities of weapons
during the war and, after the end of the war, has
focused on strengthening ties with Colombo. Trade
between Pakistan and Sri Lanka is great. The countries
have also agreed to cooperate in export, education and
research on agriculture.
Military service is optional. During the Civil War,
defense spending was high and in connection with the
final offensive many new soldiers were recruited.
According to estimates, around 150,000 army soldiers
participated in the battles against the LTTE guerrillas
in 2009. The Tamil guerrillas are estimated to have had
around 10,000 men under arms. After the war there were
plans to lose the armed forces, but they have remained
The military is not just devoted to defense. In the
Northern Province, the military regulates large parts of
daily life and throughout the country the military has
obtained employment and extra income by engaging in
tourism, agriculture and infrastructure projects. Since
2013, the army can be deployed to maintain the general
FACTS - DEFENSE
200,000 Men (2017)
The air Force
28 000 men (2017)
15,000 men (2017)
Military expenditure's share of GDP
2.2 percent (2017)
Military spending's share of the state budget
11.0 percent (2017)