NEW DELHI: Taking bilateral ties to a new level, India and Sri Lanka on Monday inked a civil nuclear pact besides deciding to expand defence and security cooperation.
After taking over recently, Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena had promised to have a relation of non-alignment, with his election campaign being critical of China having a free-for-all in all types of infrastructure projects in Lanka.
Indian officials themselves were skeptical on whether Lanka would be able to kick out all Chinese presence, but are hopeful that at least worrying episodes like port visits of Chinese submarines won’t take place again.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “eagerly looking forward to visiting his beautiful country in March”. This will be the first bilateral visit by an Indian PM to Sri Lanka in almost three decades.
Modi put some emphasis on resolving the perennial fishermen’s issue, stating that both leaders attached “highest importance” to the matter. “It affects livelihood on both sides. We agreed that there must be a constructive and humanitarian approach to the issue,” he said. Fishermen’s associations on both sides will be encouraged to meet soon and “find a solution that can be taken forward by both governments”.
Modi had fulsome praise for Sirisena’s “historic victory”, describing it as the “strength of democracy in Sri Lanka”. On economic issues, Modi acknowledged that India was ready to take forward talks for a “balanced growth in trade in both directions”, with bilateral volume largely in India’s favour. “I conveyed our readiness to promote greater flow of Indian investments and tourists into Sri Lanka,” he said.
Sri Lanka and India signed the agreement for participating in the Nalanda University project, which Modi said reflected the link “forged 2,300 years ago, by Prince Mahindra, known as Arahat Mahinda in Sri Lanka, and his sister Sanghamitra”.
Sirisena said the friendship between the two countries was significant. “I really appreciate Prime Minister Modi’s efforts (to improve ties). Relations between the two countries will be strengthened further,” he said.