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External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to visit Sri Lanka tomorrow

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to visit Sri Lanka tomorrow

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will travel to Sri Lanka on a three-day visit to meet Sri Lankan leadership as well as take up the release of Indian fishermen apprehended by Sri Lankan authorities last month. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said Jaishankar is visiting the island nation from December 5-7 following up an invitation by his counterpart Dinesh Gunawardena.

The MEA added: "It said it will be the first foreign visit by the external affairs minister in 2021, and also the first by a foreign dignitary to Sri Lanka in the new year. As such, it signifies the priority both countries attach to strengthening their close and cordial relations in all spheres of mutual interest."

India and Sri Lanka have considerably upped their relations in the last one year. In September this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa held a virtual summit to further expand ties in areas like anti-terror cooperation, maritime security and trade and investment. The virtual summit had also discussed extending India's development partnership, carried out under the High Impact Community Development Projects (HICDPs) from 2020 to 2025.

Sri Lanka has reciprocated by talking about its ‘India-First policy’ to factor in Indian sensitivities in its foreign and security policies, after a perception built up about Sri Lanka getting close to China. The communist country has been spreading its influence in the South Asian region, impacting India's relations with neighbouring countries.

This visit by Jaishankar to strengthen mutual ties follows one by National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval in November 2020 for a trilateral dialogue on security and maritime cooperation with Maldives. Foreign Minister Gunawardena was the chief guest at the trilateral event. The trilateral had Sri Lankan Defence secretary Maj Gen (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne and Maldivian Defence Minister Mariya Didi. India has revived the trilateral dialogue with a view to improving the security scenario in the Indian Ocean region. In its previous rounds, Mauritius and the Seychelles too had participated as guests.

India has identified the Omani port of Duqm as an outpost for defence cooperation. Besides, it has arrived at an understanding with Seychelles, which can help expand the Indian navy’s footprint. It has successfully pulled back Maldives into its ambit of influence.

India has stepped up efforts under its neighbourhood first policy to ensure that the expanding Chinese footprint is tackled effectively as the latter is trying to open up routes into the Indian Ocean through Myanmar, Pakistan and other countries.

China has taken over the Hambantota port from Sri Lanka on a tong-term lease, is developing the Gwadar port in Pakistan's Baluchistan and has already developed a deep-water port in Kyaukphyu in Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal. It is also carrying on with its grandiose projects in Bangladesh too. All these projects in these Indian Ocean countries have been executed under the ambit of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects. It has established a military base in Djibouti on the mouth of the strategic Gulf of Aden.

Owing to China's strategic reach-out in the region and also because of its increasing militaristic attitude, nations in various regions are coming together to form strategic alliances. US Secretary of state Mike Pompeo had recently visited Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives to draw the strategically located nations closer into Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy in a bid to counter China. Keeping these developments in mind, Jaishankar's visit to Sri Lanka, on the heels of the NSA's visit, is significant..