New Delhi: National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval’s visit to Sri Lanka Friday for the trilateral maritime cooperation was an attempt to bring Colombo closer to the Indo-Pacific cooperation, ThePrint has learnt.
The NSA’s visit assumes significance because it comes within a month after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Sri Lanka. Pompeo had called the Chinese Communist Party a “predator” and Washington to be its “friend and partner” during his visit to the island nation. It took place immediately after he he concluded the 2+2 ministerial dialogue with India.
Pompeo had also said that a “strong, sovereign Sri Lanka is a powerful and strategic partner for the United States on the world stage. It can be a beacon for a free and open Indo-Pacific”.
India is now actively taking steps to bring some of its key neighbours under the Indo-Pacific framework in a bid to relax China’s hold over countries in the region, official sources told ThePrint, requesting anonymity.
“4th Trilateral meeting on Maritime and Security meeting begins. India, Maldives and SL recognise their role and responsibility in keeping the region safe & secure,” a tweet by Indian High Commission in Maldives said.
Apart from Doval, the meeting was attended by Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Major General (retd) Kamal Gunaratne and Defence Minister Mariya Didi of the Maldvies.
The trilateral meet, which ended Saturday, took place after a gap of six years. It was last held in 2014 in India, in which Mauritius and Seychelles had attended as guest countries.
“The NSA-level Trilateral Meeting has served as an effective platform for cooperation among Indian Ocean countries,” said a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs announcing Doval’s visit.
India first policy
While the Maldives, under the present Ibrahim Solih government, has openly stated its foreign policy approach to be ‘India first‘, it will not be easy for India to obtain the same kind of assurance from Colombo, sources said.
At a recent meeting between Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage with the Vice Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, Luo Zhaohui, who was also Beijing’s former envoy to New Delhi, both countries decided to “expedite the implementation of the ongoing development cooperation projects, increase trade and investment,” said a statement by the Sri Lankan foreign ministry.
According to sources, Sri Lanka and China are believed to have decided to revive the pending talks for a free trade agreement (FTA) while expediting projects around the strategically crucial Hambantota Port.
Meanwhile, the $500 million East Container Terminal (ECT) development project in the Colombo Port that India plans to develop in collaboration with Japan continues to remain stuck.