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Rajapaksa to meet PM Modi tomorrow, visit to focus on security in Indian Ocean region

Sri Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa is set to begin his four-day visit to India Friday as the two neighbours look to refresh ties.

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New Delhi: As India and Sri Lanka attempt to refresh their ties, Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is set to begin his visit to New Delhi Friday.

Rajapaksa will have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi Saturday. The leaders are expected to prioritise defence and maritime security ties between both countries as the neighbours play a crucial role in the US-led Indo-Pacific initiative, seen largely as an attempt to counter China.

“This visit will focus mostly on maritime security in the Indian Ocean region. Both countries will seek to also bring the ties back on focus and build on the gains that were reached during (Gotabaya’s) visit,” an official source told ThePrint.

Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had visited India in November on his first foreign tour after coming to power. Now, his elder brother Rajapaksa will be making his maiden visit to India as the Sri Lankan PM. He has visited New Delhi several times before as President.

During the bilateral meeting, India and Sri Lanka may also discuss cooperation in seven-nation grouping Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). PM Modi is keen to push this forward, said the source.

“It’s important that these countries meet. It’s important that these high-level visits between both countries happen considering the stance taken by others. India and Sri Lanka can really take their cooperation in BIMSTEC to the next level,” said former ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, now Distinguished Fellow at Gateway House.

Sri Lanka’s participation in the BIMSTEC, which is a crucial part of Modi’s ‘Look East’ policy, has moved at a rather slow pace.

Also read: Sri Lanka drops Tamil national anthem from I-Day event 3 years after being introduced

The China angle

The Sri Lankan PM’s visit comes at a time when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has vowed to not allow “any outside influence” to interfere in Colombo’s internal matters.

Sri Lanka now owes significant debt to China under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. Under BRI, China is involved in building several infrastructure projects in the South Asian country, including the Hambantota Port, which is now under Chinese control on a 99-year old lease.

A joint statement issued after Wang’s visit to Lanka last month said, “China will continue to standby Sri Lanka’s interests. China stands for the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.”

India and Sri Lanka had vowed to take their ties to the next level by way of greater cooperation in counter-terrorism efforts during Gotabaya’s visit.

“Such frequent visits are extremely important in order to keep cordial neighbourly relationship. This helps in avoiding misunderstandings between two close neighbours,” said Jayant Prasad, a veteran diplomat and former director general of Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

During his four-day trip, PM Rajapaksa will meet Modi and then proceed to visit Varanasi, Bodhgaya and Tirupati.

Also read: India’s polarised politics is a bigger national security threat than Pakistan, China


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