Can President Sirisena revive India-Sri Lanka trade relations?

Friday, 13 February 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

During the visit by Sri Lanka’s new President Sirisena, India must ensure that it enjoys the most favoured treatment, by keeping the Chinese dragon, preferred by former President Rajapaksa, at bay!     By A.K. Ramdas Sri Lanka’s newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena is expected to visit India next week. This will be his first foreign visit as President and he is expected to arrive in New Delhi on 16 February. The exact itinerary has not yet been announced, but at least a day will be set aside by President Sirisena to visit Buddhist sites on a personal pilgrimage. This visit is considered very significant as he has made it clear that he wishes to start his relations with India on a clean slate, and, in the process, wipe out any misunderstandings that his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa had helped to “create.” It may be recalled that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had shown a clear “tilt” towards China, though, to make amends, he had claimed that “India is a relative, while China is a friend.” During his tenure, China made great inroads into Sri Lanka, and was even able to dock in their submarines, much to the discomfort of India. China received a number of projects during his regime. Sri Lanka’s new Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who also made his first foreign visit as Minister, reiterated the significance and importance attached to India, and in strengthening and improving bilateral ties with the country, as the relation between the two has been going on for more than 2,500 years. Meanwhile, even before he arrives in India next week for discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Sri Lankan President has ordered a complete review of all Chinese infrastructural project contracts awarded to them under Rajapaksa’s tenure. It must be remembered that Sirisena is scheduled to visit China, sometimes in May this year, for which dates have not been finalised. It is therefore unclear whether he will visit China before or after PM Modi visits that country! Since Narendra Modi will be reciprocating this visit, sometimes in March, it is hoped that both leaders will have serious discussions through which India can extend all the needed help and assistance to Sri Lanka in rebuilding the war-torn northern parts of that country so as to bring relief to the Tamil minority population that lives there. There is tremendous scope for Indian involvement in total rebuilding activities in terms of infrastructure, road building and construction of schools, bridges and assisting the local population in setting up various small-scale industries. India could supply a full range of steel products, agricultural implements, tractors, and even help in tapping water resources in that country. This is an opportunity for India to truly show that it will remain a big brother to Sri Lanka in every possible way and they, in turn, must ensure India enjoys the most favoured treatment, by keeping the Dragon at bay! (AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)