New Delhi: Sri Lanka’s new President is set to hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, after arriving in India seeking to rebuild ties hit by tensions over growing Chinese influence on the island. Maithripala Sirisena swept to power last month, ending a decade of rule by former president Mahinda Rajapakse, whose close alliance with Beijing had sparked serious concerns in New Delhi.
Sirisena will meet with Modi aiming to allay India’s fears, after the new president arrived in the Indian capital on Sunday on his first foreign trip since taking office. China has ploughed huge sums into Sri Lankan infrastructure projects, becoming the country’s biggest foreign financier and enjoying significant political and even military influence on the island under Rajapakse.
India has long considered Sri Lanka to be within its strategic sphere of influence, sending troops to the island in 1987 to enforce a New Delhi-brokered peace accord between Colombo and separatist Tamil rebels. New Delhi was reported to have been furious at the brief appearance last year of two Chinese submarines in Sri Lankan waters. Beijing 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.
“A first visit is always an opportunity to set directions. President Sirisena will be welcomed warmly in Delhi,” India’s foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told reporters ahead of his arrival.
“We expect substantial talks, we expect outcomes in terms of agreements, in terms of frameworks, and in terms of announcements.”
The new president is expected to try to secure greater Indian investment in Sri Lanka, which said last week it was seeking an international bailout of more than $4.0 billion.
Earlier in the day, Sirisena met India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.
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Sirisena is being accompanied by several ministers, including Reconstruction Minister D. M. Swaminathan, who 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 close cultural ties with the Tamils in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Modi, who has made clear his desire to reassert India’s dominance in its own backyard, will travel to Colombo next month.
On Tuesday, Sirisena will travel to the Buddhist pilgrimage site of Bodh Gaya and a Hindu temple in Tirupati further south before leaving the next day.