Modi's Sri Lanka visit- What's on the agenda?
PM Modi is set to visit Sri Lanka to take part in the Vesak day celebrations. While the visit has been termed informal, India does hope to get some things done, including discussing the Tamil Nadu fishermen issue. It is further said to be intended to bolster Indian influence and wean Sri Lanka away from its "Chinese tilt". Let us find out more!
What context is this happening in?
China is competing for influence with India in the Indian Ocean Region. While its Navy makes regular forays into Sri Lankan ports, Sri Lanka has traditionally been in India's zone of influence. The visit is further timed ahead of the OBOR summit, termed China's biggest event of 2017. India looks to bolster its influence, sending a sharp signal to China.
India, China and OBOR
The One Belt One Road Initiative refers to a set of infrastructure projects that would link Asia and Europe. India opposes China's plans for projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. China pressurizes India to join OBOR, as it would prompt countries including Sri Lanka to join.
India-Sri Lanka bilateral relations
Although India and Sri Lanka have historically and culturally been close, the relations soured following failure of Indian Peace Keeping Forces intervention against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the Sri Lankan civil war. While they maintain strong economic relations, diplomatic ties have been marred by allegations of Sri Lankan Navy arresting and killing Tamil Nadu fishermen and Lanka's growing ties with China.
India-Sri Lanka fisherman issue- What is at stake?
About 730 Indian fishermen have been killed in the past 30 years. Along with a bilateral maritime boundary dispute surrounding the Katchatheevu island, Sri Lanka also raises an objection to India's use of the ecologically damaging practice of mechanized trawling. Resolution of the issue has so far been impossible despite efforts. TN politicians including Jayalalithaa have slammed the centre for its inaction.
China has been wooing Sri Lanka with trade agreements and financial assistance structured in a way as to economically and politically bind it, while Sri Lanka has also been pushing for an economic and technical co-operation agreement with India. Further anti-Indian sentiments seem to be on a rise in Sri Lanka, with India facing more criticism compared to China.
How should India move forward?
Sri Lanka benefits out of Sino-Indian competition in the IOR. Moreover, it cannot entirely afford to tilt either way, but has to balance between the two as the smaller power. India needs to realize that despite its good rapport with the current government, economic compulsions hinder Sri Lanka from cutting ties with China and devise mutually beneficial arrangements with this in mind.
What else is planned for the visit?
As a part of the Vesak Day, Modi would take part in an International Buddhist Conference. According to Sanjay Panda, Joint Secretary (Indian Ocean Region) at the MEA, PM Modi would also interact with Sri Lankan leaders "to review the progress of bilateral relations".