India army chief, Modi’s ally in Sri Lanka amid rising Chinese influence

ECONOMYNEXT – Visiting India Army Commander General Manoj Mukund Naravane and senior ruling party politician Subramanian Swamy called on Sri Lanka’s president and prime minister on Wednesday (13) as India seeks to deepen bilateral relations to prevent the island nation tilting towards China.

The visits come a week after Indian foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla came on a three-day official visit.

The Prime Minister’s office in a statement said Gen Naravane had told Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa: “Between the two armed forces, we have an excellent relationship.”

“The Prime Minister expressed his appreciation for the assistance provided by the Indian Armed Forces to Sri Lanka throughout the years, especially in the area of training,” the statement said.

“Other aspects discussed between the two delegations included regional concerns of fundamentalism and terrorism, and the importance of caring for veterans after their service to the country.”

Swamy, a member of Indian Rajya Sabha (Council of States) of the Indian parliament and a close ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was present at the Navaratri celebrations at Prime Minister Rajapaksa’s official residence Temple Trees on Tuesday (12).

Analysts see the sudden Indian push towards deepening relations with Sri Lanka as a strategy to neutralize growing Chinese influence in the island nation.

India is concerned about a possibility that Sri Lanka would be used as a Chinese military base which could put the Indian Ocean region’s security in jeopardy. China has repeatedly rejected the allegation of possible military presence in Sri Lanka.

The renewed Indian push to deepen the bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka comes after ties between the two countries became strained when Sri Lanka unilaterally cancelled a 500 million US dollar East Container Terminal (ECT) deal in February this year.

The ECT is located near the Chinese-controlled Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT) and the 1.4 billion US dollar Port City built by China.

Sri Lanka later gave the West Container Terminal (WCT) to Indian private firm Adani group.

During Indian foriegn secretary Shringla’s meeting with President Rajapaksa, the latter said: “Sri Lanka would not be allowed to be used for any activity that could pose a threat to India’s security, since there is a clear understanding about the geographical location of the two countries.”

President Rajapaksa also explained “the relationship with China in a comprehensive manner and informed the Indian Foreign Secretary not to have any doubts about it.” (Colombo/Oct14/2021)

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