Delhi and Colombo to boost cooperation
On a recent visit to Sri Lanka, India’s External Affairs minister signed several memoranda of understanding. Although not confirmed by either country, defence agreements have been criticised by the opposition.
Colombo (Asia News) – Sri Lanka and India signed six memoranda of understanding (MoUs) during a meeting on Monday between Indian External Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and his Sri Lankan counterpart, Gamini Lakshman Peiris.
The agreements cover various sectors, like digital identity, cooperation for the development of Sri Lankan fishing ports, and the establishment of a Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC).
Colombo and New Delhi will also work together on energy diversification projects on three islands near Jaffna while modern computer labs will be built in Galle district;
A partnership was also inked between two diplomatic training institutes: the Sushma Swaraj Institute of Foreign Service and the Bandaranaike International Diplomatic Training Institute.
Minister Jaishankar was accompanied by five External Affairs officials for the summit in Colombo of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC)[*], a regional organisation that brings together seven countries that have an interest in the Bay of Bengal.
After delivering greetings from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Jaishankar reiterated India's continued support for Sri Lanka's economic recovery; for his part, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa thanked the Indian government for its financial assistance to the island nation (just under US$ 2.5 billion) in the past year.
The two sides agreed to boost economic and trade links but also cooperation in defence and energy. The Indian High Commission also announced an agreement to promote Buddhist ties between the two countries.
Minister Jaishankar met Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who stressed the importance of a greater economic involvement between the two neighbours at a time when the impact of COVID-19 is still very much felt.
He noted that the bilateral partnership between Colombo and New Delhi is rooted in the Neighbourhood First approach and in what is called the Sagar doctrine (Security and Growth for All in the Region).
However, Sri Lankan opposition MP Harin Fernando warned that creating a database with Indian aid containing the biometric data of Sri Lankan citizens is a threat to the latter.
A member of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (United People’s Power) party, Fernando also expressed concern about the signing of two defence agreements on 16 March, which were announced yesterday.
“Sri Lanka runs the risk of getting involved in a regional war owing to these agreements as India will get the opportunity of controlling Sri Lankan waters and skies, while China controls the port in Hambantota,” Mr. Fernando told Parliament.
“The recently signed maritime security pacts with the Government of India will neither result in hindrance nor threat to the national security of Sri Lanka, as misinterpreted by several print and electronic media," said a press release by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence.
Under the terms of the agreements, India will provide a Dornier reconnaissance plane free of charge for surveillance, search and rescue operations and a floating dock facility for ship repairs.
[*] Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand,