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Sri Lankan president’s visit to India in 2023 signals growing economic and energy ties

Sri Lankan president’s visit to India in 2023 signals growing economic and energy ties

The official visit of Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe to New Delhi holds immense significance in bolstering the bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka. This visit marks President Wickremesinghe’s first trip to India since assuming office after his predecessor’s departure due to an economic crisis.

The economic ties between India and Sri Lanka have been growing over the years, and this visit is seen as a further step in solidifying and expanding the cooperation between the two nations. Both countries share historical, cultural, and geographical ties, which have laid the foundation for a strong and mutually beneficial relationship.

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During his visit, President Wickremesinghe engaged in talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which provided an opportunity to discuss various issues of mutual interest. The signing of agreements on technology, renewable energy, and greater connectivity showcases the commitment of both nations to collaborate in key sectors that can drive economic growth and development.

The technology agreement likely focuses on promoting knowledge exchange, research collaboration, and innovation between India and Sri Lanka. It may lead to joint initiatives in the fields of information technology, telecommunications, and digital services, fostering advancements in both countries.

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The renewable energy agreement signifies the growing importance of sustainable energy solutions for both nations. Cooperation in this area could involve sharing best practices, investments in renewable energy projects, and developing joint ventures to harness clean and green energy sources.

Enhancing connectivity is vital for the economic progress of both countries. The connectivity agreement may encompass areas such as transport infrastructure development, maritime cooperation, and facilitation of trade and people-to-people exchanges. Improved connectivity between India and Sri Lanka can boost bilateral trade, tourism, and cultural ties, bringing the nations even closer together.

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Overall, these agreements demonstrate the willingness of India and Sri Lanka to collaborate and strengthen their economic relationship, promoting regional stability and prosperity. By leveraging their respective strengths and resources, both countries can work together to address common challenges and unlock new opportunities for growth and development.

The visit of President Wickremesinghe and the fruitful discussions with Prime Minister Modi are likely to set a positive tone for future engagements and collaborations between India and Sri Lanka, further enhancing the bonds of friendship and cooperation between the two neighboring nations.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe expressed that his visit to India provided an excellent opportunity to evaluate and enhance the bilateral relationship between the two countries. He emphasized leveraging the strong historical and cultural connections between India and Sri Lanka to build trust and confidence, paving the way for mutual prosperity in the modern world.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted that both leaders had adopted a vision to strengthen economic cooperation between India and Sri Lanka. This vision includes bolstering maritime, air, and energy connectivity to facilitate seamless interactions between citizens of both nations. Additionally, they aim to promote cooperation in tourism, trade, and higher education to further enhance the ties between India and Sri Lanka.

Prime Minister Modi also acknowledged the challenges faced by the people of Sri Lanka in the past year and reaffirmed India’s steadfast support as a close friend and ally. This statement underscores India’s commitment to standing by Sri Lanka and collaborating closely to address challenges and promote shared interests.

Last year, when Sri Lanka faced its most severe economic crisis in modern history due to a severe foreign currency shortage, the relations between Sri Lanka and India witnessed a significant surge. The economic turmoil resulted in shortages of essential items and long queues for fuel, prompting India to step in and provide crucial financial and humanitarian aid to its neighbor.

India extended critical assistance amounting to over $4 billion, which included provisions of food, medicine, and fuel. This aid aimed to inject much-needed stability into Sri Lanka’s struggling economy as the country faced a daunting total debt of over $83 billion, with $41.5 billion being foreign debt.

Moreover, India played a pivotal role in supporting Sri Lanka’s efforts to restructure its debt. As the first creditor to extend a letter of support for the debt restructuring initiatives, India’s endorsement helped catalyze support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In March, the IMF approved a $3 billion bailout package, further assisting Sri Lanka in navigating its financial challenges.

Through its timely and substantial support, India demonstrated its commitment to being a reliable and supportive neighbor, stepping up to help Sri Lanka during its most challenging times and working towards ensuring stability and economic recovery in the region.

According to Constantino Xavier, a fellow at the Centre for Social and Economic Progress, the visit of Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe to India signifies the appreciation of India’s support over the past year. It indicates that India will play a crucial role as Sri Lanka looks to revamp its economy, bureaucracy, and decision-making systems to forge future economic partnerships. This visit marks the beginning of a new chapter in the bilateral relationship between the two nations.

Sri Lanka’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean has been a point of interest for regional powers like India and China. Over the years, China’s unrestricted loans and infrastructure investments in Sri Lanka have allowed it to gain an advantage over India in terms of influence in the region.

However, the economic crisis in Sri Lanka provided India with an opportunity to regain influence, especially as China delayed its support for the country’s debt restructuring efforts. During the economic collapse, India stepped in with support, and this has led to a shift in the balance of influence in favor of India. Currently, China owns about 10% of Sri Lanka’s foreign debt.

In acknowledgment of the strengthening bilateral ties, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ranil Wickremesinghe expressed enthusiasm for exploring trade opportunities in energy and infrastructure sectors. This included discussions on the possibility of establishing a petroleum pipeline connecting southern India to Sri Lanka and transforming Trincomalee, a northeastern coastal city in Sri Lanka, into an industrial hub.

The growing collaboration between India and Sri Lanka has not gone unnoticed, and experts like Constantino Xavier have observed that it reflects an increasing competition, and sometimes even conflict, between India and China. Both countries are vying for projects related to infrastructure, energy, and political influence in Sri Lanka. This competition is evident in their efforts to secure important projects and initiatives within the island nation.

During the visit, the two leaders also expressed their support for fully implementing an India-backed scheme aimed at sharing power with Sri Lanka’s ethnic minority Tamil population residing in the north and east provinces of the island. The Tamil minority shares linguistic and cultural ties with Tamils in southern India, making this initiative significant for strengthening ties between the two countries and addressing the concerns of the minority community in Sri Lanka.

Overall, the discussions and agreements reached during President Wickremesinghe’s visit underscore the deepening economic cooperation and strategic partnership between India and Sri Lanka. It also highlights the growing engagement and competition between India and China in their pursuit of influence and economic opportunities in the region.

The history of Sri Lanka has been marred by a long and devastating civil war between the majority Sinhala-controlled government and ethnic Tamil rebels. This conflict led to the loss of many lives, with at least 100,000 people killed according to U.N. estimates. The civil war came to an end in 2009 with the defeat of the Tamil rebels.

During the recent visit of Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe to India, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed hope that the aspirations of the Tamils in Sri Lanka would be fulfilled. The Tamil minority in Sri Lanka has long sought greater political representation and power-sharing to ensure peace and stability in the country.

President Wickremesinghe presented Prime Minister Modi with a proposal for reconciliation and power-sharing. He has urged his parliament to reach a consensus and address the long-standing conflict. His efforts to resolve the issues surrounding power-sharing are significant in fostering peace and addressing the grievances of the Tamil community.

Over the years, Sri Lankan governments have pledged to India to share more power with the Tamils and implement the 13th Amendment, which created provincial councils with decentralized powers. However, progress in these areas has been slow, leading to frustration among Tamil political leaders in both Sri Lanka and India.

Some political analysts, like Jehan Perera based in Colombo, believe that India should exert pressure on President Wickremesinghe and the opposition to genuinely address and resolve the Tamil issue. India’s involvement in encouraging the Sri Lankan government to take decisive steps towards power-sharing can have a positive impact on the overall peace process.

Despite the challenges, Sri Lanka’s economy has shown signs of improvement since President Wickremesinghe assumed office. Shortages have been alleviated, power cuts have ended, and the national currency, the rupee, has started to strengthen. However, to make progress on power-sharing agreements, President Wickremesinghe needs the support of opposition parties, which has been a struggle.

The situation remains complex and delicate, but efforts towards reconciliation and power-sharing are crucial for long-term stability and progress in Sri Lanka. India’s support and encouragement can play a significant role in advancing these objectives and fostering lasting peace in the region.

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