India for 'quantum jump' in Sri Lanka ties amidst China threat
By Our Political Correspondent
May 12, 2017 15:01 PM GMT+0530 | 0 Comment(s)
ECONOMYNEXT - India was ready for a "quantum jump" in its relations with neighbouring Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Friday as rival China appeared set to deepen its interests in the island.
Making his second visit to the smaller neighbour in just over two years, Modi said there was a "great opportunity" to take Indo-Lanka relations to a new level.
"I believe we are at a moment of great opportunity in our ties with Sri Lanka," the Indian leader said at an international Buddhist conference he opened in Colombo.
"An opportunity to achieve a quantum jump in our partnership across different fields."
His visit is seen as an attempt to reassert New Delhi's influence on the island amid signs of a Chinese comeback.
Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena came to power in January 2015 promising to loosen ties with China after a decade of hefty funding by Beijing under his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa.
As Modi arrived in Sri Lanka Thursday, reports emerged that China sought permission to dock one of its submarines at the Colombo port, but the administration had refused.
Two calls by Chinese submarines in the second half of 2014 angered India.
Modi in his 20-minute address on Friday did not refer to China, but said India's rapid economic growth could bring benefits to Sri Lanka which has a population of 21 million compared to India's 1.25 billion.
"We are committed to the economic prosperity of our Sri Lankan brothers and sisters," Modi said. "We will continue to invest in driving positive change and economic growth to deepen our development co-operation."
He noted that the two South Asian neighbours were already significant partners in trade and investment and said the security of the two nations was "indivisible."
India wanted a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka because their social well being was linked with that of Indians, he said.
Sri Lanka's former leader Rajapaksa's political allies among the Sinhalese community, especially MP Wimal Weerawansa, had called for a black flag protest during Modi's visit accusing him of trying to grab land in the strategic port district of Trincomalee.
However, Rajapaksa had sought a meeting with Modi on Thursday night and the two had a "cordial" discussion, according to Indian diplomats who gave no details.
Rajapaksa said on twitter that he was "happy" to see Modi.
Travelling to the central tea growing Norwood area after opening an Indian gifted 1.2 billion rupee hospital at Dikoya, Modi said he was increasing the number of houses India was gifting to plantation workers by another 10,000 units, up from the previously committed 4,000 houses.
He also announced expanding the Indian-gifted ambulance service to the entire island. It is currently restricted to the Western and Southern provinces.(COLOMBO, May 12, 2017)