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The Big Picture – Sri Lankan PM’s Visit: Strategic & Economic Significance
On a four day visit to review initiatives in mutual cooperation Sri Lankan PM Ranil Wickremesinghe met his counterpart in India Narendra Modi. Besides regional peace and cooperation, both of them discussed the areas to further widen cooperation. The PM of India’s neighbor later met business leaders in Bengaluru to seek cooperation in software technologies at the 5th Global Conference on Cyber Space and, also called on president Ram Nath Kovind to tell him the situations in Sri Lanka.
- India-Sri Lanka relations have been friendly in general, but were also affected by Sri Lankan Civil War and Indian Peacekeeping operations in the past. At present, ethnic and fishermen issues still remain unsolved.
- Both the nations are separated by Palk Strait and have strategic locations in the Indian Ocean Region in South Asia. Both are close historically and culturally as 70% of Sri Lankans following Theravada Buddhism. They are also part of common multilateral groupings like SAARC and BIMSTEC
- The meeting has been a move further for India to go for Joint Ventures in Sri Lanka. The so called “world’s emptiest airport,” Mattala Rajapaksa International airport , 18 km from Hambantota in SE Sri Lanka is planned to developed as a JV by India. India could invest for a 70% share for 4 years. The airport is located near the Hambantota maritime port which is mainly developed and funded by China. This thus, brings India and China for developing two projects in the same region.
- Sri Lanka is very important for India as a neighbor and for China with respect to its OBOR and other initiatives.
- The other JV under consideration between the two neighbors is Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm in NE Sri Lanka. Indian Oil Corporation is to develop the tank farm located in Trincomalee which has a history spanning over 2000 years.
- So, India-Sri Lanka relations have come a long way as far as development relations are concerned. Economic and Technology Co-operation agreement (ETCA) is a proposed diplomatic arrangement that will add to the existing Free Trade Agreement between the two. Long pending ethnic crisis may also find a solution with improvements in political relations.
- India has supported and provided intelligence support which resulted in the defeat of LTTE. India has also been training Sri Lankan forces for a very large time. There have been large amount of military co-operations between the countries.
- Sri Lanka will be helpful in extending India’s domain, due to its geographical location- in Maritime, space and cyber– all of them being interconnected. In recent talks at Manila, India had focused on Indo-Pacific region. China is also investing so much in Sri Lanka as its location is very critical.
- Colombo port is able to receive the largest ships which Indian ports are not able to. So, India in this respect in Sri Lankan’s maritime infrastructure and brining India to be a part of various global chains.
- Fishermen issue is yet to be solved between India and Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government wants to ban use of mechanized trawlers in the Palk Strait region which are ecologically damaging. Some modern surveillance techniques need to be developed further by both, to restrict fishermen to cross the borders, where the two nations are separated by just 12 nautical miles.
Despite some of the pending issues, the relations between the two neighbors in IOR look to be going forward. Trade between the two has grown rapidly after the entry into force of FTA in 2000 with bilateral trade now reaching more than $4 billion now. India is planning to develop regions like Trincomalee and Hambantota beyond the drefence assistance provided to Sri Lanka which are welcome steps. It may be hoped that the ethnic and fishermen issues may also get resolved in near future with better relations being on track.