Jaishankar’s Sri Lanka go to to offer impetus to bilateral ties

Sandeep Dikshit

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 4

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will be flying to Colombo on Tuesday for a three-day visit to review the developments in bilateral relations between the two countries, said a MEA news release.

Jaishankar is travelling to Sri Lanka at a time when the alleged ill-treatment of Indian fishermen by Sri Lankan security forces is making headlines in Tamil Nadu. Also there is no move by Colombo to green-light an Indo-Japanese port project that New Delhi wants to project as a modest Indian answer to the Chinese-built Hamabantota port.

A December 30 virtual meeting of the joint working group on fisheries did not lead to a breakthrough in the release of 36 Tamil fishermen held by Sri Lanka.

Jaishankar is scheduled to hold discussions with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.

Interestingly, Sri Lanka, like many of India’s SAARC colleagues, has avoided getting caught in making a binary choice between New Delhi and Beijing. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Colombo failed to get Sri Lanka interested in the Quad’s concept of the Indo-Pacific. Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had told Pompeo publicly that his country “will maintain a neutral stand in foreign policy and will not get entangled in struggles between power blocs”.

As an alternative, India is pursuing a trilateral neighbourhood maritime domain awareness project with Sri Lanka and the Maldives. India revived this UPA-era format with NSA Ajit Doval traveling to Sri Lanka in November last year for a trilateral meeting on maritime security and exchange of information.

Besides taking up the release of Tamil fishermen arrested last month during the visit, Jaishankar he would be exploring the prospects of the $ 500 million India-Japan East Container Terminal (ECT) development project at Colombo Port.

South Block has been interacting with the Rajapaksas through frequent high level exchanges besides posting Gopal Bagley from the Prime Minister’s Office as the Indian High Commissioner in February last year. At a webinar in October last year, Bagley had underlined the importance of the Colombo port project by suggesting that getting it off the ground could be the best way to deepen the India-Sri Lanka ties.

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