Ranil’s Delhi visit likely to strengthen India-Sri Lanka ties

RANIL_WICKRAMASING_2521384fPrime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to India next week is expected to strengthen Sri Lanka’s ties with India, Asia Times reported. Wickremesinghe is scheduled to visit India between 14 and 16 September.

This is his first official visit abroad since he was appointed Prime Minister in January by the new President Maithripala Sirisena. That Wickremesinghe – like Sirisena in February – chose Delhi as the destination of his first state visit should reassure India of the priority it enjoys in the Sri Lankan government’s foreign policy agenda. Wickremesinghe can expect a warm welcome in Delhi.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe team is “more trustworthy” than the Rajapaksa regime, an official in India’s Ministry of External Affairs said, drawing attention to their attempt over the past eight months to “restore balance” in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy, which had assumed a “pronounced pro-China tilt” during the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency.

Relations between India and Sri Lanka deteriorated during Rajapaksa’s second term (2010-Jan 2015) over his government’s reluctance to initiate a meaningful reconciliation with the island’s alienated Tamils and the Sri Lankan navy’s detention of hundreds of Tamil Nadu fishermen straying into Sri Lankan waters.

India was also concerned over China’s growing role in the Sri Lankan economy; Delhi feared that Sri Lanka’s mounting indebtedness to China would result in the latter securing for itself a military presence in the island. Such anxieties became real in September-October 2014 when Chinese submarines docked twice in Sri Lanka’s harbors despite India’s objections.

The India-Sri Lanka relationship, which was “reset” in the wake of Rajapaksa’s ouster, is expected to improve further now, the MEA official said.

Among the issues the Indian government is expected to raise during Wickremesinghe’s visit are the fishermen conflict, the need for Colombo to “pursue assiduously” a solution to grievances of the island’s Tamils, the long-pending Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) and Sri Lanka’s relations with China. (Colombo Gazette)