India seals N-energy pact with SL, hopes to push back China influence

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 16, 2015 20:37 IST

India signed a nuclear deal with Sri Lanka on Monday and decided to strengthen defence and economic ties, reviving its friendship with the island nation after new president Maithripala Sirisena swept to power defeating his pro-China predecessor.

Security and prosperity of the two countries were indivisible, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he hosted Sirisena on his maiden foreign trip as president.

“Indeed, I believe our destinies are inter-linked,” Modi said and referred to Sri Lanka as “our closest neighbour and friend”.

India has been at unease with former president Mahinda Rajapakse’s strategic and economic alliance with Beijing, which was trying to enlarge its maritime footprint in the Indian Ocean realm much to New Delhi’s discomfort.

The Sirisena administration has shown no signs of slowing down its economic engagement with China, which has strategic underpinnings for India. But its decision to review Chinese projects — such as construction of a port that the Rajapakse regime had approved — gave New Delhi hope.

To leverage its position, India agreed to give Colombo nuclear energy; share expertise and resources for military training; increase agricultural cooperation; enhance air and sea connectivity; and boost balanced trade.

“The bilateral agreement on civil nuclear cooperation is a demonstration of our mutual trust. This is the first such agreement Sri Lanka has signed. It opens new avenues for cooperation, including in areas like agriculture and healthcare,” said Modi, who is expected to visit Colombo next month.

He reminded the president concerns about devolution of powers to Tamil minorities — one of Sirisena’s poll plank that galvanised support for him.

“Your mandate carries the collective voice of Sri Lanka. It represents the aspirations of your people for a united, inclusive peaceful and prosperous nation,” the Prime Minister said.

The two pitched for a solution on the niggling issue of fishermen getting arrested for trespass.

Sirisena’s reconstruction minister DM Swaminathan said the government was keen to secure India's support for ethnic reconciliation following the island nation’s decade-long civil war that ended in 2009.

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