New Delhi: External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar spoke to his Sri Lankan counterpart Dinesh Gunawardena Monday amid India’s growing concerns over the proposed Colombo Port City project, which has Chinese funding.
In a Twitter post, Jaishankar said the two countries will “continue to remain in close touch”.
Good conversation with FM @DCRGunawardena of Sri Lanka. Reviewed our bilateral agenda. Also discussed BIMSTEC, IORA and other regional mechanisms. Will continue to remain in close touch.
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) June 21, 2021
The interaction comes days after the Ministry of External Affairs asked Sri Lanka to be “mindful” of the bilateral ties between New Delhi and Colombo, as it weighed in on the proposed Colombo Port City project, which is part of a $1.4 billion deal funded by China.
Jaishankar last visited Sri Lanka in January this year. In February, Colombo scrapped a $500 million deal with India and Japan to develop the East Container Terminal and subsequently handed over the development of the West Container Terminal to the Adani Group in March.
Meanwhile, the relationship between Sri Lanka and China appears to be strengthening despite certain concerns within the island nation about the prospect of greater Chinese control over the country.
Chinese President Xi Jinping Sunday wrote a letter to Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa wishing him on his birthday.
“In face of major challenges in the world, #China and #SriLanka have been looking out for each other and working closely with each other,” Xi wrote. “I attach great importance to the development of #China-#SriLanka relations, and would like to continue to work with you to promote our strategic partnership for more fruitful outcomes, and bring more benefits to our two countries and peoples.”
Last week, as many as 12 leading Sinhalese political parties, including the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Party, participated in an event hosted by the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China. Speaking at the event, Sri Lanka Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa lauded China as a friend of the country.
“The friend will be always there, both in sorrow and pleasure. Like the murals on a wall, they never look away. We appreciate the commitments made by the Chinese Government for our independence during and after the war, forever,” he said.
Parties representing the Tamilian minority – Tamil National Alliance and the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) – were absent from the virtual event.
India’s renewed focus on Lankan Tamils
India has begun putting a renewed focus on the issue of facilitating the reconciliation of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority by giving them greater representation through the implementation of the 13th amendment to the country’s constitution.
The 13th amendment became part of the local statute as a direct result of the Indian intervention in 1987, under the India-Sri Lanka Accord.
It proposes the establishment of a provincial council system and devolution of power for nine provinces in Sri Lanka. However, successive governments in Sri Lanka have not implemented it.
Issues relating to the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka were discussed last week between India’s High Commissioner Gopal Baglay and a senior delegation from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).
“Various aspects of devolution and developmental aspirations of the people from the North and East were also discussed. The TNA delegation apprised high commissioner on progress regarding provincial council elections which constitute integral part of Sri Lankan polity and constitution,” said a press release issued by the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka.
The release also said the high commissioner “reiterated India’s support for devolution within the framework of a united Sri Lanka on the basis of full implementation of the 13A, which would be in line with Tamil aspirations for equality, justice, peace & reconciliation and would strengthen Sri Lanka”.
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