South Asia and Beyond

Mission Lanka On Fast Track

Engagement at the highest levels between India and Sri Lanka which began soon after the Gotabaya Rajapaksa-led government took charge in November last year will get a leg-up with National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval visiting Colombo on Saturday. It is a measure of the importance New Delhi attaches to its ties with the strategically located Indian Ocean island nation that the NSA is in Colombo barely two months after Gotabaya was elected President. The two men are expected to exchange views over lunch and security is on their agenda, a little bird tells us. Not surprising given that ensuring national security has been promised by the new Sri Lankan President as his country still struggles to come to terms with the Easter Sunday terror strikes of last year.

India is keen on ensuring it maintains close and robust ties with the new government to keep Chinese influence at bay in Sri Lanka. New Delhi got off to a swift start with the new government in Sri Lanka when External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar flew down to Colombo within days of Gotabaya’s win in mid-November. This was followed by a visit by Gotabaya himself to India in late November. Early this month, the Sri Lankan foreign minister Dinesh Gunawardena was in New Delhi. And Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaka who is also a former President of Sri Lanka and Gotabaya’s older brother is expected to be in New Delhi next month.

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But even as the visits continue apace, New Delhi cannot afford to let down its guard as far Chinese efforts to increase its sphere of influence in Sri Lanka are concerned. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi was in the island nation a few days ago and President Gotabaya will be headed to China next month. The Asian giants, clearly, are on a charm offensive in a nation that also straddles important sea lanes.