EAM Visit to Sri Lanka | 31 Mar 2022
Why in News?
Recently, India’s External Affairs Minister visited Sri Lanka. The visit finalized an MoU that provided India to set up hybrid power projects in three Islands (Nainativu , Delft or Neduntheevu , and Analaitivu) off Jaffna.
- In this Project, India will effectively replace the Chinese venture.
- It is the third Indian energy project coming up in Sri Lanka’s north and east.
- Earlier, India extended a USD1-billion short-term concessional loan to Sri Lanka to help the island nation cope with one of the worst economic crisis in decades.
What are the Highlights of the Visit?
- Fending Off Chinese Threat: In January 2021, Sri Lanka’s Cabinet decided to award renewable energy projects in Nainativu , Delft or Neduntheevu , and Analaitivu islands to Chinese company Sinosoar-Etechwin, following an Asia Development Bank-backed competitive bid.
- India was quick to express concern to the Sri Lankan side over the Chinese project coming up in the Palk Bay, barely 50 km off Tamil Nadu.
- Thus, India offered to execute the same project with a grant rather than a loan.
- MRCC: Further, India and Sri Lanka have also agreed to set up a Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC), signaling greater defence sector collaboration between the neighbours.
- MRCCs are part of an international network under the UN’s International Maritime Organisation to monitor the sea lanes with the objective of swift response to emergencies, such as vessels in distress, rescue and evacuation of people, and prevention of and containing environmental disasters such as oil spills.
- The agreement appears to be part of India’s SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region) initiative in the Indian Ocean, which has also seen India, Sri Lanka and Maldives give a new push to their 2011 Colombo Security Conclave that now includes Mauritius.
- Fisheries Harbours: India will also help develop fisheries harbours in Point Pedro, Pesalai, and Gurunagar in the Northern Province, and Balapitiya, south of capital Colombo.
- Capacity Building: India also assured supporting education, extending a grant for Sri Lanka’s Unique Digital Identity project, and collaborating in diplomatic training.
- Resolution of Tamil Question: On developments in regard to Sri Lanka’s long-pending Tamil question, India has welcomed the recent talks between President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) representing war-affected Tamils of the north and east.
What are Recent Issues in India-Sri Lanka Relations?
- Killing of Fishermen: Killing of Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy is a lingering issue between these two nations.
- In 2019 and 2020, a total of 284 Indian fishermen were arrested and a total of 53 Indian boats were confiscated by the Sri Lankan authorities.
- Influence of China: China’s rapidly growing economic footprint (and political clout as a corollary) in Sri Lanka is straining India-Sri Lanka relations.
- China is already the largest investor in Sri Lanka, accounting for 23.6% of the total Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) during 2010-2019 as against 10.4% from India.
- China is also one of the largest export destinations for Sri Lankan goods and holds over 10% of its external debt.
- 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution:
- It envisages devolution of necessary powers to the provincial councils to address the just demand of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace, and respect within a united Sri Lanka. India supports its implementation.
- A subterranean trust deficit exists between India and Sri Lanka yet neither Sri Lanka nor India can afford to have strained ties.
- However, as a much larger country, the onus is on India to carry Sri Lanka along. India needs to be extremely patient and avoid reacting to any pinpricks and engage Sri Lanka even more regularly and closely, especially at the highest levels.
- There is a need to step up our people-centric developmental activities while scrupulously staying clear of any interference in Colombo’s domestic affairs.
- Nurturing the Neighbourhood First policy with Sri Lanka is important for India to preserve its strategic interests in the Indian Ocean region.