PM Modi To Hold Virtual Bilateral Summit With Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa

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PM Narendra Modi

New Delhi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa will hold a virtual bilateral summit on September 26 as India seeks to consolidate its relationships in the neighbourhood after the deterioration in ties with China.

PM Modi will hold his first virtual bilateral summit meeting in the neighbourhood on the same day that he will address the UN General Assembly.

As has been the case in all multilateral meetings, New Delhi is expected to highlight how it came to the aid of its neighbours during the epidemic and also helped the world by supplying HCQ tablets.

India has been steadily dialling down tensions in the neighbourhood and it is significant that the India-Sri Lanka summit follows several New Delhi-centric developments.

Foreign ministers of SAARC will meet virtually on September 24 with Nepal’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Gyawali in the chair.

If this gesture has mollified Nepal to the extent of stopping the printing of textbooks with a new political map that includes a small strip over which there are overlapping claims with India, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s extended conversation with Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina helped bring back focus to the developmental aspects of the partnership.

Bhutan and Maldives that are in deep trouble after Covid are being provided emergency credit lines, essentials and help in strengthening their health infrastructure by India.

But it is slightly different vis-a-vis Sri Lanka. After former President (and now PM) Mahinda Rajyapaksa’s younger brother easily won the presidential polls, the family’s party swept the parliamentary polls.

With the family in absolute political control, Mahinda as PM has been playing both India and China.

At stake is India’s East Container Terminal (ECT) project in Colombo that was approved by the previous India-friendly Srisena government. Although 70 per cent of the traffic will be with India and Japan is also a partner, the project has faced opposition.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has set up a committee to examine the concerns raised about ECT as well as Jaya Container Terminal (JCT).

But the equations have slightly altered after COVID-19 and in the midst of a fragile financial situation due to the pandemic, Sri Lanka has to pay back big loans this year.

In an earlier phone call with PM Modi, Gotabaya had sought a special $1.1-billion currency swap facility.

A MEA release confirming the virtual bilateral summit said it will give an opportunity to the two leaders to “comprehensively review the broad framework of the bilateral relationship” soon after the parliamentary elections in Sri Lank. -TNS

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