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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2674

Sri Lanka President Sirisena meets Indian PM Narendra Modi, strikes nuclear deal

By Dr. Abdul Ruff

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, on his first overseas tour since winning an election last month, met Indian premeir Narandra Modi and hailed his country’s close relations with India in a joint briefing with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.

Sri Lanka's new president held talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 16 on his first foreign trip, trying to reset ties with the region's powerhouse after strains over China's growing influence on the island. Sri Lanka's new leader is underlining India's importance as a regional ally by making it his first official foreign destination as president, following years of uneasy relations with New Delhi and international pressure to speed up post-civil war reconciliation efforts at home.

The highlight of President Sirisena visit to New Delhi is a civilian nuclear pact India and Sri Lanka signed a civilian nuclear pact that would help the island nation meet its energy goals, a sign of improving bilateral ties. However, as the usal practice in nuclear diplomacy, they didn’t provide details on the deal.

Modi told reporters that the bilateral agreement on civil nuclear cooperation is another demonstration of our mutual trust on . Modi said that India and Sri Lanka would also expand defense and security ties. The nations have shared interests in maritime security in the region. “India is Sri Lanka’s closest neighbor and friend,” Modi said. “I believe that our destinies are interlinked. Our security and prosperity are indivisible.”

President Sirisena seems to have promised India to rebalance Sri Lanka’s foreign relations away from China.. This is the first such agreement that Sri Lanka has signed. It opens new avenues for cooperation. India offers more than five decades of experience in atomic energy. Its industry has built 5.8 gigawatts of capacity using mostly indigenous technology and plans to increase that to 62 gigawatts by 2032.

Colombo was considering help from India, Pakistan, Russia, France and the USA.. Sri Lanka and India began talks on a civilian nuclear cooperation pact in 2012 and held another two rounds of talks last year. Sri Lanka is seeking to incorporate nuclear into its long- term energy plans to diversify from biomass, hydroelectricity and imported oil products.

Officials under his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, had rankled India by suggesting that Pakistan—whose reactors have mostly been built by Chinese companies—may help it build nuclear power plants.

Chinese submarines docked twice in Colombo last year, triggering protests from India. The visits were for “replenishment purposes,” and Sri Lanka wouldn’t act against India’s security interests, V.K. Singh, deputy minister for external affairs, said in a written response to India’s parliament in November.

China has invested heavily in Sri Lanka infrastructure projects and supported Rajapaksa in the face of U.S.-led inquiries into human rights abuses allegedly committed during the end of a 26-year civil war.

India has long considered Sri Lanka to be within its strategic sphere of influence, sending troops to the island in 1987 to enforce a peace accord it brokered between Colombo and separatist Tamil rebels. But under Rajapakse China ploughed huge sums into Sri Lankan infrastructure projects, becoming the country's biggest foreign financier and enjoying significant political and even military influence.

India was reported to have been furious at the brief appearance last year of two Chinese submarines in Sri Lankan waters. China has been accused of seeking to develop facilities around the Indian Ocean in a "string of pearls" strategy to counter the rise of its Asian rival India and secure its own economic interests. After meeting India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, Sirisena began lunchtime talks with Modi at his residence in the capital.

Indian diplomats in Colombo said that Sirisena and Modi were expected to reach an agreement on cooperation in the civilian use of nuclear technology. This stems partly from Sri Lanka's concerns that any disaster involving the Kundankulam nuclear plant in India's Tamil Nadu state could have catastrophic consequences for the island too. Under the proposed agreement, India would provide technical assistance in education, training and disaster management.

China funded much of Sri Lanka's post-war infrastructure under the Rajapakse administration but the new government has said the interest rates charged on the loans averaged between five and seven percent.

The nature of the rebalancing as it unfolds will also have significant implications on China’s efforts to project its power in the Indian Ocean Region. Analyists warn Sri Lanka not foolish enough to kick China out—not when billions of dollars of investment go with it—but will likely loosen its embrace.

As per the US policy of Asia Pivot that essentially means containment of China, India is also trying to push Sri Lanka to delete China from its nuclear plan provider list. Last month, Modi and US President Barack Obama announced a breakthrough on a long-stymied 2008 civilian nuclear agreement that could trigger an expansion of nuclear imports and projects. However, details are kept a top secret.

Reconstruction Minister D. M. Swaminathan said the government was keen to secure India's support for ethnic reconciliation following the island's decade-long ethnic war that ended in 2009. Sri Lanka's minority Tamils share closes cultural ties with the Tamils in Tamil Nadu. Modi's predecessor Manmohan Singh boycotted a Commonwealth summit in Colombo in late 2013, partly to protest at the Rajapakse administration's treatment of the Tamils.

PM Modi, who has made clear his desire to reassert India's dominance in its own backyard, will travel to Colombo next month. India expects that President Sirisena would now look to reduce his country’s dependence on China.

Both India and Sri Lanka have decided to consolidate, deepen and strengthened further the relationship between the two countries.

President Sirisena is due to be guest of honour at a banquet thrown by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee in the evening. On Tomorrow the Lankan president will travel to the Buddhist pilgrimage site of Bodh Gayain Bihar and a Hindu temple in Tirupati in AP further south before leaving the next day.

Details of Sirisena-Modi talks

Here is the text of the statement the to media by Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, during the visit of President of Sri Lanka, Shri Maithripala Sirisena, to India :

It is a great pleasure and privilege to welcome President Maithripala Sirisena and Mrs. Sirisena to India.

We are honored that you have chosen India as your first overseas destination.

Let me congratulate you on behalf of the people of India for your historic victory. The election reflects the strength of democracy in Sri Lanka.

Your mandate carries the collective voice of Sri Lanka. It represents the aspirations of your people for a united, inclusive peaceful and prosperous nation.

India is Sri Lanka`s closest neighbour and friend. The goodwill and support of the people of India will always be with you.

The timeless links of history, religion and culture provide a solid foundation of our partnership.

We also share a broad range of interests - economic development for our countries; peace and prosperity in South Asia; maritime security in the region.

Indeed, I believe that our destinies are inter-linked. Our security and prosperity are indivisible.

President Sirisena and I had excellent discussions today on our bilateral relations and international issues.

President and I are committed to unlock the vast potential of our economic cooperation.

We are pleased to be Sri Lanka`s largest trading partner. I know that India enjoys a huge trade surplus. I expressed my support for a more balanced growth in trade in both directions.

I conveyed our readiness to promote greater flow of Indian investments and tourists into Sri Lanka.

We discussed expansion of cooperation in energy sector, both conventional and renewable.

Our Commerce Secretaries will meet soon to review our bilateral commercial relations.

We also intend to further improve air and sea connectivity between India and Sri Lanka.

The bilateral agreement on civil nuclear cooperation is yet another demonstration of our mutual trust. This is the first such agreement Sri Lanka has signed. It opens new avenues for cooperation, including in areas like agriculture and healthcare.

President and I also agreed to expand our defence and security cooperation. We welcomed the progress in our maritime security cooperation, including in the trilateral format with Maldives.

The Indian assisted projects for Internally Displaced Persons in Sri Lanka have made excellent progress. This includes the Housing Project, under which more than 27,000 houses have already been constructed. President and I expressed satisfaction with the progress.

I assured President Sirisena of India`s commitment to its development partnership with Sri Lanka. This will continue to cover a broad range of areas, including infrastructure. In this context, I am also pleased with the MoU on cooperation in agriculture.

President and I attach the highest importance to the fishermen`s issue. It affects livelihood on both sides. We agreed that there must be a constructive and humanitarian approach to the issue.

We will encourage the fishermen`s associations on both sides to meet again soon. They should find a solution that can be taken forward by both governments.

Like cricket, culture provides a strong bond between us. The Programme of Cultural Cooperation signed today will nurture those ties and promote contacts between people.

I am also delighted that Sri Lanka is now part of the Nalanda University Project.

It recalls a link forged 2300 years ago, by Prince Mahindra, known as Arhat Mahinda in Sri Lanka, and his sister Sanghamitra.They went to Sri Lanka as apostles of Buddhism.

Sri Lankan nationals visit the National Museum in New Delhi in large numbers to pay homage to the Kapilavastu relics. We have decided to reduce the fees for them.

I thanked the President for his invitation to me to visit Sri Lanka. I am eagerly looking forward to visiting his beautiful country in March.

I would like to once again welcome President Sirisena to India. We are at a moment of an unprecedented opportunity to take our bilateral relations to a new level. His visit today has set us firmly in that direction.

Here is the text of the statement the to media by President Maithripala Srisena during his visitto India :

Within a very short time since my election as President of Sri Lanka I chose India or Maha Bharatha for my first foreign visit. The relationship between Sri Lanka and India extends through a very long period. It is a history of several thousand years. Speaking as a Buddhist we see that the philosophy of the Buddha and the philosophy of Hinduism have a very close relationship.

Sri Lanka as a country that has a very strong influence of Buddhism and Hinduism, the historic relationship between our two countries extends to through culture, economics, commerce and trade, defence and clearly spreads through all these sectors.

Therefore, the discussions that took place since our arrival in Delhi, the warm welcome extended to delegates that accompanied me and the friendship expressed in beginning our bilateral discussions resulted in our being able to obtain the most satisfactory understanding with goodwill among the two countries and will help to build friendship between us.

We were, therefore, able to sign several Memoranda of Understanding relating to different subjects between our two countries. We eagerly await the arrival in Sri Lanka of the Indian Prime Minister Hon. Narendra Modi in March. We consider his arrival both as an honor and blessing to our country. This will contribute much to further establish the friendship between our two countries and also have an impact on national development. It will also help in reaching understanding on international relations through broad base friendship with the further strengthening India – Sri Lanka relations.

Therefore, in keeping with our long term experience we have the opportunity to work together in the future on economic development, cultural affairs, state security, Information Technology, commerce and trade, agriculture, education and such important sectors. By the signing of MoUs we have already established a good beginning towards future progress.

This first official visit to India by me has been most successful and fruitful and has contributed to the developing and ensuring friendship between our two countries. I, therefore, express my warmest gratitude to Indian Prime Minister Modi and all those led by him for the warm and friendly welcome extended to us.
May this friendship continue to grow.

- Asian Tribune -

Sri Lanka President Sirisena meets Indian PM Narendra Modi, strikes nuclear deal
Sri Lanka President Sirisena meets Indian PM Narendra Modi, strikes nuclear deal
Sri Lanka President Sirisena meets Indian PM Narendra Modi, strikes nuclear deal
Sri Lanka President Sirisena meets Indian PM Narendra Modi, strikes nuclear deal
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