Sri Lanka Prez Rajapaksa arrives on India visit

Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (C) arrives at the Indra Gandhi International airport in New Delhi

India will seek to secure its role in developing the East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port in Sri Lanka, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosts the new president of the island nation, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, for a meeting in New Delhi on Friday.

Rajapaksa chose New Delhi for his first foreign visit after taking over as President of Sri Lanka on November 18, notwithstanding apprehensions in India that his presidency might once again see China expanding its footprints in the Indian Ocean nation.

He arrived in New Delhi late on Thursday and was received by Union Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways, V K Singh, at the Indira Gandhi International Airport.

He will hold a meeting with Prime Minister at the Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Friday.

“Leaving for my first state visit to India and looking forward to strengthening bilateral relations with Shri @narendramodi and Govt (Government) of India,” the new Sri Lankan President posted on Twitter just before his departure from Colombo.

Prime Minister and Sri Lankan President are likely to discuss the project to build the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Port.

India and Japan inked a Memorandum of Intent with Sri Lanka in May this year for developing infrastructure at the ECT of Colombo Port. They agreed that the Sri Lankan Ports Authority would hold the majority share in the joint venture to be set up to run the container terminal and the rest of the shares would be distributed between the entities of India and Japan.

New Delhi and Tokyo are now keen to restart talks with the new Government in Sri Lanka to decide the exact share-holding pattern and move towards building the container terminal.

Rajapaksa defeated his nearest rival Sajitha Premadasa in the recent presidential elections in Sri Lanka. He appointed his elder brother and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister of the new government of the island nation.

The return of the “Rajapaksa Brothers” to the seat of power in Sri Lanka fuelled speculation about the possibility of China regaining its strategic edge in the maritime neighbourhood of India.

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 build strategic assets on 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.

Beijing is keen to develop Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka as a hub for its Belt-and-Road initiative. Sri Lanka signed a $ 1.1 billion deal to sell a 70% stake of the strategic Hambantota port to China under a 99-year lease agreement. Colombo argued that it had to enter into a deal as the construction of the Hambantota Port by another company of China during the erstwhile regime led by Mahinda Rajapaksa had resulted in a heavy burden of debt on it.

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