New Delhi, January 15
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Saturday held talks with Sri Lankan Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa and discussed joint projects and investments by Indian companies that would strengthen the economy of the island nation.
Jaishankar was holding the conversation with a Minister who was not strictly his counterpart a couple of days after India bailed out Sri Lanka temporarily from its balance of payments difficulties. The help extended by India is worth over $ 900 million and about $ 1.5 billion more is in the pipeline, said sources. Sri Lanka’s economic position can be gauged from the fact that shortly after his Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Colombo, China is sending a shipment of sugar.
During the virtual meeting, Jaishankar also raised the issue of Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan custody and urged for their early release as a humanitarian gesture while reaffirming that “India will be a steadfast and reliable partner of Sri Lanka’’.
“We positively noted the extension of the $ 400 million swap facility and the deferred ACU settlement of $ 515.2 million (by two months). Discussed the early realisation of 1 billion term loan facility for essential commodities and of 500 million LoC for fuel purchase,” the external affairs minister said.
The two ministers also reviewed the progress in extending the Indian credit facility of $ 1 billion for importing food, essential items, and medicine and $ 500 million for importing fuel from India.
During the meeting, Rajapaksa recalled India’s long-standing cooperation with Sri Lanka and deeply appreciated the gestures of support.
He welcomed Indian investments in Sri Lanka in a number of important spheres including ports, infrastructure, energy, renewable energy, power and manufacturing and assured that a conducive environment will be provided to encourage such investments.
“The west terminal [at Colombo port] and the tank farm are two very important transactions (with India). As I see it, the two sides should move seamlessly into the strategic area,’’ Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner Asoka Milinda Moragoda during a virtual address to students of the Gandhinagar-based Rashtriya Raksha University.
“Of course, given the nature of the power play in this region, Chinese presence can be looked at differently. In that context, I think our dialogue with India is what is important – to build trust and to understand each other. And, maybe, have some sort of red lines which both sides will not cross,” Moragona said. China does not have any security presence in Sri Lanka, and India has never told the island nation not to accept Chinese investment, he added.
“For us, Trincomalee could potentially be a petroleum hub for India, both for storage and refining. Trincomalee can only service India, it is too far away from sea lanes...We need to think strategically and that’s going to be the next step. Looking at this narrowly as a tank farm transaction would be wrong,” he said.
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