India views its relationship with Sri Lanka with utmost sincerity, and problems in the island nation are issues of ‘Neighbourhood first’, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar stated.
In a press statement marking his visit to Sri Lanka, Dr Jaishankar said, “My primary purpose of coming to Colombo at this time is to express India’s solidarity with Sri Lanka during these difficult moments. As you all know, last year, India extended about US $ 4 billion in terms of credits and roll overs to help Sri Lanka get through an economic crisis”. He further said, “For us, it was an issue of ‘Neighbourhood First’ and not leaving a partner to fend for themselves”.
He said in 2023, in a developing situation that was “beginning to cause concern, the same sentiment reasserted itself”.
Dr Jaishankar said, “We felt strongly that Sri Lanka’s creditors must take proactive steps to facilitate its recovery. India decided not to wait on others but to do what we believe is right. We extended financing assurances to the IMF to clear the way for Sri Lanka to move forward. Our expectation is that this will not only strengthen Sri Lanka’s position but ensure that all bilateral creditors are dealt with equally”.He said, “we also know that Sri Lanka’s pathway is one of a strong economic recovery propelled by greater investments. I also have a clear message that I will be sharing with the business community. India will encourage greater investments in the Sri Lankan economy, especially in the core areas like energy, tourism and infrastructure”.
The Minister said New Delhi counts on the Government of Sri Lanka to provide a more business-friendly environment to create “a powerful pull factor”.
“I am confident that the gravity of the situation is realized by policy makers here. Energy security is today one of Sri Lanka’s most serious challenges. A search for solutions must necessarily encompass the larger region. Only then will Sri Lanka get the full benefit of scale,” Dr Jaishankar said.
“This country (Sri Lanka) has enormous renewable energy potential that can become a sustainable source of revenue. It also has the capability for Trincomalee to emerge as an energy hub. In its support for Sri Lanka, India is prepared to be a reliable partner on such initiatives,” he stated.
External Affairs Minister said that India has “agreed in principle” on a renewable energy framework that would take this cooperation forward.”Tourism is the lifeblood of the Sri Lankan economy. I note that Indian tourists are expressing their positive sentiments for Sri Lanka in a very practical manner by coming here. But there are many more steps we can take to make this sustainable,” he said, adding, “Strengthening connectivity and promoting travel is, therefore, a very high priority for all of us. Definitely, encouraging Indian tourists to make RuPay payments and utilizing UPI would be most helpful in this regard”.The Minister also maintained that “…in a turbulent world, it is essential that India and Sri Lanka steady their trade. The use of rupee settlement for trade is obviously in our mutual interest”.
Dr Jaishankar also handed over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe to visit India early to discuss how the partnership can facilitate Sri Lanka’s “strong recovery.”
Dr Jaishankar also has been to the Maldives lately. Officials say both Maldives and Sri Lanka are India’s key maritime neighbours in the Indian Ocean Region and occupy a special place in the Prime Minister’s vision of ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and ‘Neighbourhood First’.
It has also been stated that External Affairs Minister’s visit to these two countries is testimony to the importance that India attaches to its close and friendly relations with the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
During his visit to Maldives, Dr Jaishankar said, “We are good neighbours. We are strong partners. We have mutually invested in development and progress. But we also have a responsibility for peace and security in the region”. He said the security partnership between the two countries continues to strengthen, which is how it should be.