ECONOMYNEXT – Visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Monday reiterated the importance of Sri Lanka working together with India to deepen bilateral relations that have seen their ups and downs.
Shringla’s comments come as India is seen trying to repair strained ties with Sri Lanka, which has been moving towards China for more investments and loans. Increased Chinese influence in the island nation is seen as a threat to the Indian Ocean region, and political analysts and diplomats say India is concerned about a risk of a strong Chinese foothold becoming a regional threat.
“As we seek rapid socio-economic recovery for our respective countries, it is important to work together to strengthen our economic partnership and deepen our time-tested bilateral ties founded on the principles of mutual benefit, mutual understanding and a common purpose defined by good neighbourly relations,” Shringla said at a ceremony marking the inauguration of Indian Development Cooperation Projects in Colombo.
He further said India is also dedicating 1,235 houses in the third phase of an Indian housing project in the hill country where Sri Lanka Tamils of Indian origin predominantly reside.
Shringla said Indian projects including a Model Housing Village in the Vavuniya District, a school building at Vadamaraddchi in Jaffna and the Saraswathy Central College building in Pussellwa reflect the people centric benefits of the two countries’ development cooperation.
“I would also like to highlight that these projects employ local companies and invariably use Sri Lankan material and labour in their execution,” he said.
Shringla met Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Monday and spoke about Indian assistance to promote Buddhism and pledged 15 million US dollars’ aid to promote Buddhist ties aimed to deepen people-to-people linkages between the two countries, the Prime Minister’s office said.
The Indian foreign secretary visited the Temple of the Tooth Relic in the central Sri Lankan district of Kandy, and then Trincomalee in the East to inspect the oil tank farm which is now managed by the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC). He also visited the ethnic minority Tamil-dominated Jaffna.
His visit also comes ahead of a groundbreaking ceremony at the China-backed Port City for what will be the first building to go up on the reclaimed land.
The Port City is expected to play a vital role in China’s multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which has raised security concerns for India in the Indian Ocean region, diplomats have said.
Diplomatic relations between India and Sri Lanka have been strained since the latter unilaterally cancelled a 500 million US dollar tripartite East Container Terminal (ECT) deal in February this year citing trade union pressure.
Instead, Colombo gave the West Container Terminal to India’s privately owned Adani group which has tied up with Sri Lanka’s John Keells Holdings to accomplish the 700 million US dollar project.
Diplomats have told EconomyNext that both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa are committed to go ahead with the ECT deal and a liquefied natural gas (LNG) deal.
Sri Lankan government officials have told EconomyNext the delay in the ECT, LNG, and Trincomalee oil tank farm deals have annoyed India at a time when most multi-million-dollar infrastructure projects are granted to China.
Sri Lanka has asked India to return some of the unused oil tanks in Trincomalee to store fuel, and the IOC has said it is ready for a joint venture.
The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna (SLPP) has opposed Indian projects and has vowed to cancel them. The Rajapaksa government also cancelled a 293 million dollar Mattala Airport project which was to be given to India. (Colombo/Oct04/2021)