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Business News/ Politics / Policy/  India-Sri Lanka ties may be set for a thaw
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India-Sri Lanka ties may be set for a thaw

New Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena set to visit India in February

Sri Lanka’s new foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi on Saturday. Photo: PTIPremium
Sri Lanka’s new foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi on Saturday. Photo: PTI

New Delhi: A thaw in relations between India and Sri Lanka is on the cards as Colombo prepares to make India the new Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena’s first port of call next month.

This comes after a period of coolness in bilateral relations due to defeated President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s reported tilt toward India’s strategic and economic rival China.

Signs of a turnaround in relations came with Sri Lanka’s new foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera arriving in New Delhi on Saturday, within five days of being appointed to his post. His discussions with Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj that “covered the entire expanse" of relations, were described as “extremely cordial, positive and substantive" that yielded “specific outcomes" Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told reporters in New Delhi. It demonstrates the “desire of both India and Sri Lanka to give a boost to our bilateral ties," he said.

Samaraweera “did indicate his choice of New Delhi as the first destination reflects the priority that the new government in Sri Lanka gives to relations between our two countries," Akbaruddin said, adding that the meeting between the two foreign ministers “have paved the way for the further visit of Sri Lankan President to India at an early date." Swaraj has also agreed to visit Colombo.

Akbaruddin described the Swaraj-Samaraweera talks as “cordial" because the “new Sri Lankan government sees India as an opportunity for economic advancement"—indicating a departure from the position of the previous Sri Lankan administration that was seen welcoming Chinese investments. Sri Lanka views India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi “as a powerhouse of economic development and for Sri Lanka it is a win-win situation," the spokesman said.

The comments indicate a re-scripting of ties that had cooled during the tenure of Rajapaksa. India had been wary of Sri Lanka’s growing closeness to China with investments flowing in from that country into the island nation, which has been traditionally closer to India. Rajapaksa reportedly visited China seven times after becoming president in 2005. India was also upset when Chinese submarines docked in Sri Lanka on two separate occasions last year, something India saw as part of Beijing’s “string of pearls" strategy to secure a foothold in South Asia and maritime access through the Indian Ocean.

Chinese president Xi Jinping visited Sri Lanka ahead of a scheduled trip to New Delhi on 18-20 September where Rajapaksa reportedly endorsed Xi’s plans for a proposed maritime “Silk Road" linking China with Europe as the Chinese president announced a billion-dollar power plant and port city projects on the island nation, news reports said.

Analysts say one reason for Sri Lanka’s growing closeness to China was that Beijing was prepared to turn a blind eye to allegations of grave human rights abuses committed by Sri Lankan forces in the war to end armed Tamil insurgency in 2009, whereas many Western nations withheld investments needed for rebuilding the nation, China had no such compunctions.

With India joining the West in voting against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2013, some Sri Lankan political commentators said it was natural for the Rajapaksa government to have turned to China.

But elections earlier this month saw Rajapakse defeated by opposition candidate Sirisena, a one-time ally of Rajapaksa who defected in November.

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Published: 19 Jan 2015, 12:05 AM IST
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