NEW DELHI: Allaying India’s fears about his perceived closeness with China, newly-appointed Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said while China was the island nation’s trade partner, India remained a “relative”.
Rajapaksa’s remark to India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who called on him in Colombo on Tuesday, is being seen as an attempt to reassure India.
He also accepted PM Narendra Modi’s invitation and will visit India on November 29. “A warm meeting with Sri Lanka President @GotabayaR. Conveyed PM @narendramodi’s message of a partnership for shared peace, progress, prosperity & security. Confident that under his leadership, #IndiaSriLanka relations would reach greater heights,” Jaishankar tweeted after the meeting, hours after Rajapaksa assumed the office on Tuesday.
The external affairs minister is on a two-day unannounced visit to Sri Lanka. Modi had invited Rajapaksa during a congratulatory phone call on Sunday and asked him to visit India as his first foreign tour.
Rajapaksa is the brother of former Lankan President Mahinda Rajapksa and served as a colonel in the Sri Lankan army.
He has been credited with ending the decades-long civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam during his tenure as the defence secretary.
Political observers said Rajapaksa’s pro-China leaning will affect Indian presence in the Indian Ocean.