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THE CONTEXT: Recently, the Sri Lankan President visited India at the invitation of PM Modi. During the visit, both Prime Ministers’ signed different agreements and MoUs in various arenas. They discussed a range of issues of mutual interest, including economic cooperation, energy security, and connectivity. This article analyses the scope of relations between India and Srilanka and also tries to give an overall perspective for a holistic understanding of the matter.
A BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF THE VISIT
- Sri Lankan President’s Visit to India:
- The visit took place from July 20-21, 2023.
- The President of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, was invited by the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi.
- Aim: The visit was aimed at further advancing and consolidating the long-standing bilateral relations between the two countries.
- Course: During the visit, President Wickremesinghe met with President Droupadi Murmu and Prime Minister Modi.
- Result and Agreement signed: The two sides also signed several agreements.
- Joint Declaration of Intent on Animal Husbandry and Dairying.
- Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the Field of Renewable Energy.
- Memorandum of Cooperation for Economic Development Projects in the Trincomalee District of Sri Lanka.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE AGREEMENTS SIGNED
Joint Declaration of Intent on Animal Husbandry and Dairying
● The JDI outlines a shared commitment between the two countries to improve the quality of dairy products in Sri Lanka, achieve self-sufficiency in milk production, and boost the income of small-scale dairy farmers.
● Through knowledge sharing, technical assistance, and capacity-building initiatives, India will assist Sri Lanka in developing sustainable dairy practices and modernising its dairy infrastructure.
Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the Field of Renewable Energy
● Through knowledge sharing, technical assistance, and capacity-building initiatives, India will assist Sri Lanka in developing its renewable energy sector.
● The MoU is a significant step in the long-standing cooperation between India and Sri Lanka in the field of renewable energy.
● India is one of the world’s leading producers of renewable energy, and it has a wealth of expertise and experience in this sector.
● Sri Lanka, on the other hand, has a strong potential to become a major producer of renewable energy in the region.
Memorandum of Cooperation for Economic Development Projects in the Trincomalee District of Sri Lanka
● The MoC outlines a shared commitment between the two countries to develop the Trincomalee district through economic cooperation. The MoC covers a wide range of areas of cooperation, including:
ü Infrastructure development,
ü Industrial development
ü Tourism development,
ü Agriculture development,
ü Human resource development
Expanding the scope of Connectivity
Air- Chennai to Jaffna
Maritime-Ferry service from Nagapatanam to Kankeshanthurai.
People to People- Landbridge to Trincomalee
Energy and power-grid connectivity, petroleum pipeline
Finance- UPI interface. etc.
THE POSSIBLE IMPACTS OF THE AGREEMENTS
The Joint Declaration of Intent on Animal Husbandry and Dairying
- It is expected to help the two countries to improve their cooperation in the areas of animal breeding, milk production, and dairy processing.
- This could lead to increased trade and investment between the two countries, as well as improved food security for both countries.
- The JDI is expected to help Sri Lanka achieve its goal of self-sufficiency in milk production.
- It is also expected to boost the income of small-scale dairy farmers, which will help to reduce poverty and improve rural livelihoods.
The Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the Field of Renewable Energy
- It is expected to help the two countries to develop renewable energy projects, such as solar and wind power plants.
- This could help to reduce the two countries’ reliance on imported fossil fuels, and it could also create jobs in the renewable energy sector.
The Memorandum of Cooperation for Economic Development Projects in the Trincomalee District of Sri Lanka
- It is expected to help to boost economic development in the Trincomalee district. The district has a strategic location in the Indian Ocean, and it has a strong potential for economic development.
It can revolutionize the bilateral relations between the two countries and promote sustainable growth and development, along with providing strategic depth to India.
- Sri Lankan Economic Crisis
- In September 2021, the government announced an economic emergency, as the situation was further aggravated by the falling national currency exchange rate, inflation rising as a result of high food prices, and pandemic restrictions in tourism, which further decreased the country’s income. This drove Sri Lanka to the brink of bankruptcy due to foreign reserves falling to $1.9 billion as of March 2022, this being insufficient to pay the foreign debt obligations of $4 billion and an International Sovereign Bond (ISB) payment of $1 billion for the year 2022. The national inflation rate increased to 17.5% in February 2022, according to the National Consumer Price Index.
- The government repaid $500 million in International Sovereign Bonds, which was due in January 2022, despite growing opposition coming from economic analysts and experts who all advised the government to postpone the ISB payment in order to preserve the foreign reserves.
- On 12 April 2022, Sri Lanka announced that it would be defaulting on its external debt of $51 billion.
THE ISSUES BETWEEN INDIA AND SRI LANKA
THE TAMIL QUESTION
● India wants the proper implementation of the 13th Amendment, signed in 1987 for solving the Tamil issues in Srilanka.
● However, the domestic politics of Srilanka coupled with the Sinhala-Buddhist resistance have been stumbling blocks.
● The issue is related to the trespassing of Indian fishermen into the Srilankan waters and the ceding of Kachattevu island by the Indian government.
● Despite the signing of the maritime boundary agreements between the two countries, the conflicts have not subsided.
● The end of the civil war in Srilanka has further increased the instances of confrontation between the Indian fishermen and the Srilankan Navy. ( see additional information for details)
SRI LANKA AND THE CHINESE ANGLE
● One of the key drivers of China’s involvement in Sri Lanka is its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is a key country along the maritime route of the BRI.
● The port of Hambantota was developed with Chinese investment and has been leased to China for 99 years.
● The port is strategically located on the Indian Ocean and is seen as an important point along the BRI maritime route.
● China is one of Sri Lanka’s largest trading partners, with bilateral trade between the two countries valued at over $3 billion in 2019.
● The Chinese expansive engagement with Srilanka poses serious security concerns for India in the Indian Ocean region.
AREAS OF COOPERATION BETWEEN BOTH COUNTRIES
DEFENCE AND SECURITY
● India and Sri Lanka cooperate closely on defence and security matters, with India providing training and equipment to Sri Lankan security forces.
● The two countries have a rich cultural heritage and promote cultural exchange through various programs and initiatives.
● India has been assisting Sri Lanka in infrastructure development, including the construction of ports, airports, and power plants.
● India and Sri Lanka have strong educational ties, with many Sri Lankan students studying in India. India also supports capacity-building programs for Sri Lankan educators.
● India and Sri Lanka have been working together to improve agricultural productivity and rural livelihoods in Sri Lanka.
● India and Sri Lanka cooperate on health issues, with India providing technical and financial assistance for health sector development in Sri Lanka.
● The recent visit of the Srilankan President saw the signing of many agreements which expanded the scope of connectivity projects between the two countries.
FUTURE OF INDIA-SRI LANKA RELATIONS
- The future prospects of India-Sri Lanka relations are bright. The two countries have a shared history, culture, and religion, and they are committed to working together to address shared challenges. In recent years, the relationship has been marked by close cooperation in a number of areas, including trade, investment, security, and development.
- There are a number of factors that will shape the future of India-Sri Lanka relations. These include the following:
- The economic situation in both countries: If the economies of India and Sri Lanka continue to grow, it will create opportunities for increased trade and investment between the two countries.
- The political situation in both countries: If the political situations in India and Sri Lanka remain stable, it will create a favourable environment for continued cooperation between the two countries.
- The security situation in the region: If the security situation in the region remains stable, it will create a more conducive environment for increased cooperation between India and Sri Lanka.
- In addition to the above, there are a number of other factors that could contribute to the future development of India-Sri Lanka relations. These include:
- The rise of China in the region: As China’s influence in the region grows, India and Sri Lanka will need to work together to ensure that their interests are not compromised.
- The development of the Indian Ocean as a major maritime trade route: The Indian Ocean is becoming increasingly important as a maritime trade route. India and Sri Lanka could cooperate to develop the region’s infrastructure and promote trade.
- The challenges of climate change: Climate change is a major challenge that both India and Sri Lanka face. The two countries could work together to develop adaptation and mitigation strategies.
- Overall, the future of India-Sri Lanka relations is bright. The two countries have a strong foundation for cooperation, and they are committed to working together to address shared challenges. If the factors mentioned above continue to be favourable, the relationship between India and Sri Lanka is likely to continue to grow and strengthen in the years to come.
THE WAY FORWARD
- Deepening economic cooperation: India and Sri Lanka have a natural economic complementarity, with India being a major industrial power and Sri Lanka being a major tourist destination. By deepening their economic cooperation, the two countries could create jobs, boost trade, and improve the lives of their people.
- Strengthening security cooperation: India and Sri Lanka share a long border, and they are both facing the threat of terrorism. By strengthening their security cooperation, the two countries could better protect their borders and their people.
- Working together to address regional challenges: India and Sri Lanka are both located in a region that is facing a number of challenges, including climate change, disaster management, and migration. By working together to address these challenges, the two countries could make a significant contribution to regional stability.
- Increasing cultural and people-to-people exchanges: India and Sri Lanka have a rich shared culture, and their people have strong historical ties. By increasing cultural and people-to-people exchanges, the two countries could strengthen their ties and build a more positive future for their people.
- Strengthening political and diplomatic ties: India and Sri Lanka are both important countries in the region, and they have a shared interest in maintaining regional stability. By strengthening their political and diplomatic ties, the two countries could work together to address common challenges and promote regional cooperation.
THE CONCLUSION: India and Sri Lanka have a long-standing and close relationship, marked by strong cultural, historical, and economic ties. While there have been challenges in the relationship, both India and Sri Lanka remain committed to working together to deepen their relationship further and to promote mutual interests. The close relationship between India and Sri Lanka is a testament to the strong ties that exist between the two countries and the potential for further cooperation in the future.
1. “A Sri Lanka under the sphere of influence of China is a bigger threat than China itself in the Indian Ocean Region.” Critically examine the statement in the context of current developments.
2. “ The recent visit of the President of Sri Lanka to India has not only reinforced its special place in India’s Neighborhood First Policy but also opened up avenues for newer areas of cooperation and engagement”.
● Evolution of India-Srilanka Relation:
ü Ancient and Medieval Times (Historical Ties): India and Sri Lanka have shared cultural and historical ties dating back to ancient times. Buddhism, which originated in India, spread to Sri Lanka, fostering close connections between the two nations. Trade and cultural exchanges flourished during this period.
ü Colonial Era and Post-Independence (20th Century): Both India and Sri Lanka were under British colonial rule, which facilitated interactions between the two countries. India gained independence in 1947, followed by Sri Lanka in 1948. This newfound sovereignty allowed them to establish diplomatic relations as two independent nations.
ü Bilateral Cooperation and Assistance (1950s-1970s): In the early years after Sri Lanka’s independence, the two countries maintained friendly relations. India provided development assistance, including infrastructure projects and trade cooperation. The Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957 aimed to address the concerns of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority, with India playing a supportive role.
ü Ethnic Conflict and Peacekeeping (1980s-1990s): The ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka escalated in the 1980s. India’s involvement intensified with the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) intervention in 1987 under the terms of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. However, this intervention faced significant challenges and eventually ended in 1990.
ü Post-Conflict Engagement (2000s): The Sri Lankan civil war concluded in 2009 with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). India expressed support for a peaceful and politically negotiated solution to the ethnic issue. Bilateral relations improved after the end of the conflict, with a focus on trade, economic cooperation, and cultural ties.
ü China’s Influence and Diplomatic Balancing (2010s): Sri Lanka’s increased engagement with China, particularly in terms of infrastructure development projects, raised concerns in India due to strategic considerations. India aimed to maintain its influence in the region and initiated various development projects in Sri Lanka to counterbalance China’s influence.
ü Recent Developments (2020s): In recent years, India-Sri Lanka relations have continued to evolve, with an emphasis on economic cooperation, trade, and people-to-people contacts. Both countries have worked together on various regional and international platforms, including the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).
● India’s Involvement in Sri Lankan Civil War
ü Diplomatic involvement: India attempted to mediate the conflict through diplomatic efforts. In 1987, India signed the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, which aimed to resolve the conflict through the devolution of power to the Tamils and the disarming of the LTTE. However, the Accord was not implemented, and the situation deteriorated, leading to the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) intervention.
ü Military involvement: In 1987, India intervened militarily in the conflict, deploying the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka. The IPKF was initially welcomed by Tamils, but its heavy-handed tactics soon led to resentment and the IPKF became embroiled in a war with the LTTE. India withdrew its troops from Sri Lanka in 1990 after suffering heavy casualties.
● Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen have been fishing in Palk Bay for centuries, but issues between the nations arose after the Sri Lankan Civil War broke out in 1983.
● The situation altered when India and Sri Lanka signed four Maritime Boundary Agreements between 1974 and 1976, which delineated their different understandings of the two nations’ international maritime boundary.
● The goal behind these agreements was to make law enforcement and resource management in the Palk Strait easier.
● The Indian government transferred Katchatheevu Island to Sri Lanka without consulting the Tamil Nadu state government under the accords.
● Since then, Indian fishermen have only been permitted “access” to the island for the purpose of resting, drying nets, and attending the annual St. Anthony’s festival, not fishing.
● Despite the accords, there is no clearly defined maritime boundary between the two nations, causing Indian fishermen to enter Sri Lankan seas in pursuit of a greater catch.
● Between 1983 and 2009, Indian fishermen enjoyed better access to the rich Sri Lankan seas since the Palk Strait’s maritime boundary was not closely monitored.
● Fish and aquatic life on the Indian continental shelf have been decimated in recent decades. As a result, more fishermen enter Sri Lankan seas and utilise new fishing trolleys, which Lankan fishermen cannot match.
● During the LTTE era, Indian fishermen perceived a great business opportunity since the Sri Lankan government had prohibited the easy movement of Sri Lankan fishermen in waterways due to war actions.
● Since 2009, the Sri Lankan navy has increased monitoring along its northern maritime border in order to prevent the return of Tamil militants.
● Since the end of the LTTE war in 2010, there has been a comeback of Sri Lankan fishermen in Palk Bay. They were attempting to retake their legitimately lost base and were embroiled in warfare as a result.
● As a result, the frequency of arrests of Indian fishermen has increased. Sri Lankan officials maintain that they are only safeguarding the country’s marine borders from poaching and ensuring the livelihood of Sri Lankan fishermen.Spread the Word