Colombo, March 13 (newsin.asia): The recent visit of the Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena to New Delhi to attend the high profile Founding Conference of the International Solar Alliance (ISA), and his extremely cordial meetings with the Indian President and Prime Minister there, indicate that India-Sri Lanka economic relations are set to improve and Indian President Ramnath Kovind is likely to visit Sri Lanka as the earliest.
If Kovind does come, it will be the first official visit by an Indian President to Sri Lanka, a milestone in India-Sri Lanka relations.
The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a place of honor to the Sri Lankan President at the ISA conference, thus recognizing Sirisena’s commitment to “clean energy”.
On his part, President Kovind highly praised Sirisena’s contribution to Sri Lanka, both in the domestic and international spheres, since he came to power three years ago.
At their meeting on March 10, Kovind said that Sirisena is playing “a stellar role in Sri Lanka’s active re-engagement with the world” and that “his leadership has been reassuring for India and the region and beyond.”
Commending the environment-friendly measures initiated by Sirisena in Sri Lanka, Kovind appreciated the Lankan President’s vision of ensuring economic development with environmental sustainability. He praised Sri Lanka’s ‘Surya Bala Sangramaya’ initiative in the solar energy sector.
Emphasis on Economy
Kovind further said that India and Sri Lanka “must promote greater progress in trade, commerce, connectivity and development cooperation.”
He pointed out that “India shares Sri Lanka’s emphasis on areas such as power, renewable energy, ocean resources, organic agricultural practices, port and airport facilities.”
The Sri Lankan President invited Kovind to visit Sri Lanka at a mutually convenient date. The invitation is most likely to be accepted, given the deep interest India has in developing strong economic ties with Sri Lanka and many of its developments projects are waiting to be attended to by the Sri Lankan government.
In April 2017, India and Sri Lanka signed a number of MOUs on a variety of projects in a wide range of spheres including roads, LNG, solar power and ports. But they are all gathering dust though a road building project to be done by the Indian firm RITES with EXIM bank funding has reportedly been handed over.
Last year India had submitted proposals for the management of the Mattala Airport near the Chinese built and operated Hambantota port in South Sri Lanka. But talks have got stuck on the valuation of the airport and perhaps other issues too. In this context is significant that the Sri Lankan delegation included the Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Nimal Sripala de Silva. He is considered to be friendly to India.
Sirisena’s Importance In Economic Affairs
Talking economic relations with President Sirisena makes sense because he is slowly but steadily taking over economic decision making from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his ministerial colleagues from the United National Party (UNP).
Though the agreement between Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the UNP is that economic ministries will be handled by the UNP, Sirisena has been reversing the coalition partner’s economic decisions frequently. He has also set up a National Economic Council in an effort to marginalize the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs set up by Wickremesinghe.
Motivated by Sri Lanka “nationalism” in contrast to Wickremesinghe’s “internationalism”, Sirisena has been against blindly inviting foreign (mainly Western and Chinese) investments.
Currently in Japan, Sirisena has made a statement saying that China should not use projects under its One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative to infringe the host countries’ sovereignty or cause clashes with other countries. This accords with India’s fears about the OBOR Initiative in its neighborhood.
It was at Sirisena’s insistence that the Wickremesinghe government revised an agreement with the Chinese on the Hambantota port as he felt that the earlier agreement had abridged Sri Lanka’s rights.
Meeting with Modi
In his meeting with Indian Prime Minister Modi, Sirisena thanked the Indian government for extending a Line of Credit of US $ 100 million for major solar power expansion projects.
Out of the US$ 100 million, US$ 50 million will be allocated for roof top solar power projects for low income families, while the rest will be for the establishment of roof top solar power projects in hospitals, schools, technical colleges and other government establishments to promote solar power in the country.
Modi recalled that during the past few years the relations between the two countries were further strengthened. But he did not fail to stress that “it is important that future ties focus on economic relations between the two countries.”
Modi stated that he appreciates the “long term” policies of President Sirisena and took up issues relating to existing and future Indian development projects.
(The featured image at the top shows Indian President Ramnath Kovind greeting his Sri Lankan counterpart Maithripala Sirisena)