NEW DELHI: Pressing the ‘reset’ button on Monday on Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s first visit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that he will be visiting the island nation in March, even as both countries signed a civil nuclear agreement and committed to urge fishermen’s associations to find a solution.
While the signing of the nuclear deal was significant, Sirisena’s decision to travel to Delhi on his first foreign trip is being seen as marking a refreshing change in tone from the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa government — which was seen to have practiced an open door policy for China over the years.
“We are at a moment of unprecedented opportunity to take our bilateral relations to a new level,” noted Modi, asserting that the visit has “set us firmly in that direction”.
After discussions over lunch, Modi described the signing of the bilateral agreement on civil nuclear cooperation, which is the first such pact signed by Sri Lanka, as “yet another demonstration of our mutual trust”. In toto, four agreements were signed on Monday.
As the PM indicated, the civil nuclear agreement pertains to training of personnel in the field of application of nuclear power in healthcare, agriculture and disaster mitigation. Sources said it does not include cooperation in sale of reactors or in generation of power. Despite some reports, officials were skeptical that Lanka, with its small size and population, would ever require a nuclear reactor to cater to its electricity needs.
After taking over, 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, which mainly benefited the ruling dispensation.
The new government in Colombo had promised to review all Chinese projects, including the controversial Colombo port city project.
However, there is lingering confusion over its status – with a minister first stating that it had got the green signal, and later Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe informing Sri Lankan Parliament that it was still under review.