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Lanka opportunity

President Sirisena’s visit inaugurates a new phase in bilateral ties. Delhi must build on this moment.

By: Express News Service |
Updated: February 17, 2015 12:36:37 am

By making Delhi the destination for his first visit after assuming office, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has underlined his intention to build a close relationship with India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also confirmed his state visit to Sri Lanka in March, which will be the first bilateral tour by an Indian PM since Rajiv Gandhi travelled to Colombo in 1987 to sign the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord with the then Sri Lankan president, J.R. Jayewardene.

Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka will coincide with the 28th United Nations Human Rights Council session in Geneva, where progress in the investigation into the country’s human rights record under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa will be reviewed. India will have to tread carefully as the Sirisena government favours a domestic investigation and inquiry, albeit with international support, into the alleged human rights violations. In their bilateral talks, Modi would have reminded the Sri Lankan president of the importance of national reconciliation and reconstruction in the Northern Province. Modi is expected to visit the Tamil-majority Northern Province during his trip, which will send a positive signal to Sri Lanka’s Tamils. It will also serve as a polite yet firm reminder to Sirisena of his own stated desire “to bring together the minds of the people of the north and south”.

India is Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner and Modi has expressed his support for a more balanced growth in trade. The bilateral trade imbalance in India’s favour reflects Sri Lanka’s inadequate export capacity, which India can help address through accelerated investments in the island. This will also satisfy the Sri Lankan industry bodies that are asking for “deeper economic ties with India beyond the current free trade agreement”. The signing of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between the two countries, resisted by Rajapaksa for a decade, could be the centrepiece of Modi’s Sri Lanka visit in March. Even from a geopolitical perspective, it is in India’s interest to move Sri Lanka away from  an infrastructure-driven to an export-led strategy because China has embedded itself in India’s neighbourhood by investing in big infrastructure projects. India has expressed concern over the China-funded $1.4 billion Colombo port city project, which has security implications for New Delhi. By signing the civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Sri Lanka during this visit, Modi has given Sirisena something to remember when he visits China later this year.

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First published on: 17-02-2015 at 12:36:34 am
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