Lanka and India in ‘meeting of minds’ over security

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Leaders of India and Sri Lanka were on the same page over regional security following President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s latest visit to New Delhi, an official source said amid fears of China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean region,

Wickremesinghe addressed India’s security concerns over China’s increasing footprint in Sri Lanka and vowed to fast track connectivity between the two Indian Ocean neighbours, the source said.

“The president reiterated his broad assurance that Sri Lankan territory will not be used against India,” the source said. “There is a meeting of the minds on security.”

Wickremesinghe had a one-on-one luncheon meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the last day of his visit, but official sources indicated that they had taken head on the question of Chinese presence.

According to a transcript of Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra’s press conference soon after the visit, the top Indian diplomat fielded questions about China’s submarine visits to Colombo in 2014 and another port call by a vessel India consider a spy ship in August last year.

“Sri Lankan side did convey to us their sensitivity and respect for our security and strategic sensitive concerns relating to what happens in our maritime domain,” Kawtra said.

“Our challenges that we face in maritime domain are in many ways shared challenges and both sides will continue to monitor developments, naturally closely consult on issues that have a bearing on the security of both countries and particularly India’s security and concerns of India’s security and sensitivity.”

New Delhi raised concerns when the Chinese vessel, Yuan Wang 5, sought permission to dock at Hambantota in August. The port call by what China calls a “scientific research” vessel went ahead. Sri Lanka responded by asking China not to carry out any “scientific research” while in Sri Lankan waters.

In a clear move to reassure New Delhi, the Sri Lankan government announced on July 18, two days before Wickremesinghe’s visit, a new “standard operating procedure” for future port calls by foreign research vessels and military craft. The government did not give details.

Wickremesinghe had addressed India’s fears about Beijing’s intentions in June too during a visit to France, dismissing speculation about Chinese military bases in Sri Lanka.

“No, we have no military agreements with China,” he told the France24 TV network. “There won’t be any military agreements. I don’t think China enters into one.

“We are a neutral country, but we also emphasize on the fact that we cannot allow Sri Lanka to be used as a base for any threats against India.”

During his talks in Delhi, Wickremesinghe pledged to speed up the ferry service between Nagapattinam in India and Kankesanthurai, in northern Sri Lanka and hopefully start a regular service by November.

The two sides also want to increase the frequencies and airports between the two countries while there is also increased cooperation in the energy sector. An electricity grid connection and a petroleum pipe are being studied.

On Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict, New Delhi reiterated its call for a political solution that meets the aspirations of the minority community, the official said.

“…India continues to look forward to a political solution that addresses the aspirations of the Tamil community, of course aspirations for equality, justice and self-respect within the framework of united and prosperous Sri Lanka,” Kwatra said.

Prime Minister also clearly expressed India’s belief that a “meaningful devolution of powers and the full implementation of the 13th amendment (to the Sri Lankan constitution) are essential components of addressing and facilitating the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka.”

“This has been our consistent position, and this was put forward during the meeting between the two Leaders,” he added.

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