Jaishankar Takes Swipe at China, Assures Full Support And Financial Help to Keep Sri Lanka Afloat read full article at worldnews365.me

External affairs minister Dr S Jaishankar’s two-day visit to battered neighbour Sri Lanka has given new hope to the beleaguered President Ranil Wickremesinghe-led government. Jaishankar who arrived in Colombo via neighbouring Maldives on Thursday evening held a detailed discussion with Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Sri Lanka’s foreign minister Ali Sabry, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and top officials of India’s high commission on the island nation. This is the first high-level visit by the Government of India since Sri Lanka faced the worst public unrest fuelled by economic collapse in mid-2022.

Sri Lanka, which is still struggling to secure a bridge loan of US $2.9 billion (about Rs 24,000 crore) from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to meet its immediate needs, got the full endorsement of India. Emphasising on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “neighbourhood first” policy, the external affairs minister assured Sri Lanka of full cooperation and financial help. Taking a swipe at China, which is accused of ruining Sri Lanka’s economy and not helping in the recovery plan, Jaishankar said, “India decided not to wait on others, but to do what we believe is right. Our expectation is that this will not only strengthen Sri Lanka’s position but ensure that all bilateral creditors are dealt with equally.”

China, one of the largest creditors and investors is dilly-dallying and not sending any positive signals, frustrating the already bankrupt nation. Many international economists feel that China should write off the loans Sri Lanka owes to it and help the island nation get back on its feet at the earliest.

India stood by Sri Lanka during its worst economic and political crisis last year and extended financial assistance of US $4 billion (about Rs 32,000 crore). That helped Sri Lanka stay afloat and restore a semblance of normalcy, after a civil war-like unrest that lasted for four months in 2022.

“For us, it was an issue of ‘Neighbourhood First’ and not leaving a partner to fend for themselves,” Jaishankar said.

The minister said India will encourage greater investments in the Sri Lankan economy, particularly in key areas like renewable energy, tourism, and infrastructure.

“We also know that Sri Lanka’s pathway is one of a strong economic recovery propelled by greater investments. Here too, I have a clear message that I will be sharing with the business community. We count on the Government of Sri Lanka to provide a more business-friendly environment to create a powerful pull factor. I am confident that the gravity of the situation is realised by policymakers here,” Jaishankar said.

Looking at Ranil Wickremesinghe, Jaishankar said that the primary purpose of his visit to Sri Lanka is expressing India’s support and solidarity during their crisis.

He said India has always supported both the political and economic stability of Sri Lanka.

He said the President briefed him on the question of political devolution and his thinking. “I shared with him our considered view that the full implementation of the 13th amendment and early conduct of provincial elections are critical in this regard. Durable efforts towards reconciliation are in the interests of all sections in Sri Lanka,” he said.

Jaishankar also spoke of the need to pay special attention to the requirements of the Indian-origin Tamil community.

The minister said that one of Sri Lanka’s most serious challenges today is energy security.

“A search for solutions must necessarily encompass the larger region. Only then will Sri Lanka get the full benefit of scale. This country has enormous renewable energy potential that can become a sustainable source of revenue. It has the capability as well for Trincomalee to emerge as an energy hub in its support for Sri Lanka,” he said.

Jaishankar said India is prepared to be a reliable partner on such initiatives. “We have today agreed in principle on a renewable energy framework that would take this cooperation forward.”

The Adani Group and NTPC are planning to set up mega renewable energy plants in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-dominated north and east.

Advising Sri Lanka to exploit its tourism potential to the fullest, the minister said, “I note that Indian tourists are expressing their positive sentiments for Sri Lanka in a very practical manner by coming here. But there are many more steps we can take to make this sustainable. Strengthening connectivity and promoting travel is therefore a very high priority for all of us. Encouraging Indian tourists to make RuPay payments and utilise UPI would be most helpful in this regard.”

In a turbulent world, it is essential that India and Sri Lanka steady their trade, said Jaishankar. The use of rupee settlement for trade is obviously in mutual interest, he said.

While thanking the President for receiving him, Jaishankar underlined that India is a reliable neighbour, a trustworthy partner, one who is prepared to go the extra mile when Sri Lanka feels the need.

“My presence here today is a statement about Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to ‘Neighbourhood First’. We will stand by Sri Lanka in this hour of need and are confident that Sri Lanka will overcome the challenges that it currently faces,” he concluded.

During his remarks, Jaishankar said he has handed over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to President Wickremesinghe to visit India at an early date to discuss how India’s partnership can facilitate Sri Lanka’s strong recovery.

India’s unconditional support to Sri Lanka has changed the public perception of its largest neighbour and trade partner these days. The majority Sinhalese, who are normally wary of India because of the Tamil issue, are also realising that staying with India is good for the nation in the long run.

China, which had a stranglehold over Sri Lanka till recently, is busy handling its own internal crisis and not coming forward with any plan or proposal to settle the Sri Lankan debt issue. The apathy and indecisiveness of China, which many Sri Lankans derisively call “a credit card company”, have turned the public against it since the civil unrest.

India is cautiously and cleverly playing its cards to ensure that Sri Lanka comes out of the Chinese grip at the earliest. The Rajapaksa family which is known as a pro-China clan is now divided. The ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and finance minister Basil Rajapaksa have been completely disgraced and have disappeared from the public eye. The headman of the family and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his MP son Namal Rajapaksa are running the ruling party SLPP, and they have even clinched an electoral alliance with Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) for the upcoming provincial elections.

Jaishankar also met Mahinda Rajapaksa at his residence and briefed him about his visit and its outcome. The Rajapaksa camp has described it as the most productive and positive visit.

(With inputs from Daily Mirror)

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