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Resetting ties: The importance of Jaishankar’s Sri Lanka visit

New Delhi, Jan 05: External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar will arrive in Sri Lanka today on a three day visit. The visit is an extremely crucial one and the foreign minister is expected to take up the release of the Indian fishermen apprehended last mont.

The visit is an important one and comes at a time when Colombo has signalled several times that India is a priority. In November, National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval and visited Sri Lanka for the trilateral discussion on maritime cooperation and security with Colombo and Male.

Resetting ties: The importance of Jaishankar’s Sri Lanka visit

It may be recalled that Jaishankar had visited Colombo within a day of ri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa taking charge in November 2019. This set the stage for both countries to reset ties. Soon after Rajapaksa had travelled to New Delhi on his maiden foreign visit. Prime Minister Narendra Modi held the first virtual summit with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

During his visit, Jaishankar is scheduled to hold discussions with the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Dinesh Gunawardena.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's administration has emphasised that its ''India-First'' policy, which resonates well with India''s ''Neighbourhood First'' policy, would be the cornerstone of Colombo''s outreach to New Delhi.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa travelled to India in February on his first official trip abroad after being appointed to the office by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his younger brother.

Weeks ago in November 2019, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had travelled to India in his first overseas tour after taking over the reins of Sri Lanka. During his visit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced financial assistance of USD 450 million to Sri Lanka including USD 50 million to fight terrorism.

In September this year, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who won the general elections in August, held a "very successful" virtual summit with his Indian counterpart during which he praised Prime Minister Modi for extending help and cooperation to Sri Lanka in several areas, including in combating the pandemic.

"We both agreed to continue the two-way dialogue to further advance the centuries-old, robust relationship between our two countries," Mahinda tweeted after the talks.

He recalled the joint Indo-Lanka effort in handling the oil tanker fire off Sri Lanka''s east coast and said he was thankful to India for its assistance.

Sri Lanka is not averse to giving India the control of the Colombo harbour's eastern container terminal operation with a joint venture with Japan.

Both the president and the prime minister have told the agitating port trade unionists, who remain opposed to the deal, that the previous Sirisena government''s memorandum of cooperation on the Colombo port''s eastern terminal cannot be reversed. This was perhaps the first wheel in motion on the ''India-First'' policy.

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval visited Colombo in November for a trilateral maritime dialogue among India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The meeting took place after six years. The last meeting was held in New Delhi in 2014. It was Doval''s second official visit to Sri Lanka in 2020. In January, he visited Colombo and discussed a range of bilateral issues with the president.

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