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The Big Picture – Indo-Sri Lanka ties: A new chapter?


India and Sri Lanka which shared friendly relations for centuries in the past have been witnessing some strains in the ties now. Now with two new leaders in both the countries and new Sri Lankan President coming to India on his first foreign visit as President, hopes have been raised about the relationship being rebooted. For years the Indian government’s responses to Sri Lanka has been more or less depended on the politics of Tamil Nadu. While some feel such holds are inevitable, while others feel such hold of state politics on International Relations is detrimental. Meanwhile the change of government in Sri Lanka and defeat of the former President is seen by India as an opportunity to start a new chapter in Indo Lankan relations. This is especially so in the increasing influence of China on Sri Lanka.

China has been developing its relations with Sri Lanka. Chinese military supplies to Sri Lanka are estimated at $100 million per year, with China supporting the Sri Lankan defence forces in boosting capabilities for high-technology aerial warfare, and restructuring and reorienting the military. China emerged as the largest foreign finance partner of Sri Lanka in 2010, overtaking India and Japan, and became its third largest trading partner in 2012. Sri Lanka is also committed to join the Maritime Silk Road initiative, which is a vital strategic project for Beijing in the Indian Ocean. For China, Sri Lanka is a gateway port up the western coast of India and further west to Iran, an important oil exporter to China. This is a serious cause for concern.

Tamil issue is also unresolved. While the Tamil issue has an emotional resonance in India, it should not be allowed to distort India’s interests in Sri Lanka. Foremost among these interests is to keep its southern flank free from any external political and military influence. Bringing back Sri Lanka to a state of acceptable neutrality should be India’s primary goal at the moment. More than 70% of India’s liquefied energy supplies travel through the Indian Ocean, making it vital to the country’s security. Hence, it is necessary to maintain friendly relationship with Sri Lanka.

India and Sri Lanka have recently signed agreements and memorandums of understanding (MoUs) on nuclear energy, cultural issues, education, and agriculture.