Jaishankar for early choice on tasks in Sri Lanka

Sandeep Dikshit
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, January 6

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Wednesday pressed Sri Lanka for an early decision on several pending Indian proposals in infrastructure, energy, and connectivity.

In a meeting with his counterpart Dinesh Gunawardane in Colombo, the external affairs minister also expressed the hope that 36 Tamil fishermen arrested by the Sri Lankan security forces will soon be released.

Jaishankar listed the reasons why India and Sri Lanka ought to have a closer trade and investment relationship but Gunawardane offered no specific commitments in public but agreed that Colombo required partnerships for enhanced investment in several sectors of the economy.

India has its sights on the Colombo Port’s Eastern Container Terminal but is being opposed by trade unions and leftist parties.

Gunawardane represents a left-of-centre party and had campaigned against the Vietnam War in his youth. His father, a former Cabinet minister, was Sri Lanka’s leading Trotskyite and an independence movement hero.

Jaishanakar said the early implementation of many proposals under discussion would definitely accelerate Sri Lanka’s economic recovery. The Indian businesses too were strongly interested in investing in Sri Lanka.

“We have discussed some important opportunities, in the course of yesterday and today, including in special zones for pharmaceutical manufacturing as also in tourism. I will ensure an early follow-up from the Indian side,” Jaishankar assured Gunawardane.

The Sri Lankan foreign minister was highly appreciative of Indian support over the past several months to mitigate the adverse impact of Covid pandemic and felt India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy had made a very positive impact on the health sector and economy during the critical period. He also thanked India for extending assistance in repatriating Sri Lankan pilgrims, students and medical cases.

“As close neighbours and littoral states, we discussed defence and security matters as well as maritime and fishery sectors. We agreed to continue the momentum brought about by close dialogue as also (agreed to) curb illegal activities,” added Gunawardane.

Though Sri Lanka abuts further into the Indian Ocean than India and Colombo is a natural stopover for long haul ships, there was no mention of Indo-Pacific. Nor was there any mention on infrastructure projects that are debt traps.

This may have been because Sri Lanka has preferred cooperating in a trilateral maritime domain awareness endeavour in partnership with India and the Maldives instead of being drawn into a military block kind of an arrangement.

On the debt issue, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was told off in no uncertain terms that there was no “unsustainable debt burden” due to Chinese infrastructure projects when he visited Colombo last October.

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