Modi hosts new Lanka Prez, India moves to outdo China

Prime Minister hosts new Sri Lankan President, promises credit lines of $ 400 million and $ 50 million respectively to develop infrastructure and expand counter-terrorism capabilities

The prime minister also said he was confident that the new government in Sri Lanka will fulfil aspirations of the Tamil community in that country. Photo/REUTERS

India on Friday announced two new credit lines of $ 400 million and $ 50 million to Sri Lanka to help develop its infrastructure and expand its counter-terrorism capabilities respectively as Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted the new President of the island nation, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in New Delhi.

New Delhi's move to announce the new credit lines for Sri Lanka less than a fortnight after Gotabaya Rajapaksa took over the top office in Colombo signalled its keenness to counter China's bid to expand footprints in the Indian Ocean island and build strategic assets that could pose a security threat to India.

Modi announced the credit lines after a meeting with Rajapaksa at Hyderabad House in New Delhi. “I am confident that the new credit line of $ 400 million would support the development of infrastructure in Sri Lanka. It would not only benefit the economy of Sri Lanka but would also add momentum to our cooperation on mutual beneficial projects,” Prime Minister said as he and Sri Lankan President addressed media persons. “A stable, secure and prosperous Sri Lanka is not only in India's interest but also in the interest of the entire Indian Ocean Region.”

 

“We will continue to work with India to ensure that the Indian Ocean Region remains a zone of peace,” said Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa shared with Modi his plan to review Sri Lanka's national security strategy, revamp intelligence agencies and augment counter-terrorism capabilities, in view of the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, which killed over 250 people and left about 500 others in and around the capital city of the island on April 21 this year.

Prime Minister later announced that India would support Sri Lanka's bid to augment its counter-terrorism capabilities with a $ 50 million Line of Credit.

New Delhi is interested in investing in several big-ticket infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka, particularly in building and operating the East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port. India and Japan inked a Memorandum of Intent with Sri Lanka earlier this year for developing infrastructure at the East Container Terminal in Colombo Port.

India is keen on developing the Colombo Port along with Japan in view of its strategic location close to the major sea lanes. China already developed and took operational control of Hambantota Port in southern Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is one of the South Asian nations where China is trying to outsmart India to spread its geo-political influence.

Rajapaksa already appointed his elder brother and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister of the new Government in Sri Lanka.

The return of “Rajapaksa Brothers” to power in Colombo triggered apprehensions in New Delhi over the possibility of Sri Lanka moving closer to China undermining its traditional relations with India and overlooking New Delhi's security concerns.

Modi, however, subtly conveyed to the Rajapaksa that New Delhi would expect him to be mindful to the interests of India. “The security and development of our two countries are inseparable,” Prime Minister said after his meeting with Sri Lankan President. “Therefore, it is natural that we should be aware of each other's safety and sensibilities.”

Rajapaksa sought to reassure Modi, underlining that while security cooperation was an important component of Sri Lanka's relations with India, the island nation's ties with other countries were by and large focussed only on economic and commercial cooperation.

India is also keen to build a 500 MW power plant run on re-gasified Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) in Sri Lanka, apart from setting up industrial zones and special economic zones, an LNG terminal or floating storage re-gasification unit and a 50 MW solar power plant in Sampur in the island nation.

“I have assured the President of India's commitment to a development partnership with Sri Lanka. As always, this cooperation will be in accordance with the priorities of the people of Sri Lanka,” Prime Minister said, subtly underlining the differences in the manners New Delhi and Beijing take forward development projects in other countries.

The Chinese Government has often been accused of putting other nations in debt traps on the pretext of supporting development projects as part of its ambitious cross-continental Belt and Road Initiative.

Sri Lanka too had to lease out the Hambantota Port to China for 99 years after its construction by a company based in the communist country resulted in a huge debt burden on the tiny Indian Ocean nation.

The second of Mahinda Rajapaksa's two consecutive terms (2005-2015) in the office of Sri Lankan President had seen China expanding its footprints in the Indian Ocean island nation, causing much unease to India. He had ignored the security interests of India and allowed China to develop strategic assets, like Hambantota Port, in the island. He had also allowed two nuclear submarines of People Liberation Army Navy of China to dock at the Colombo Port, raising hackles in New Delhi.

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