India and Sri Lanka agreed on Friday to consider building a bridge between the two countries during a visit by Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe in New Delhi
The Sri Lankan president is in India for a two-day official visit, his first since taking office last year. Following talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the two leaders unveiled agreements on technology, renewable energy and greater connectivity to deepen bilateral relations.
Establishing “land connectivity” across the Palk Strait, which at places is only around 25 kilometers (15 miles) wide, would give India access to the key ports of Trincomalee and Colombo, and strengthen a “millennia-old relationship,” according to a strategic document.
After the talks, Modi said that the two sides would also soon study the feasibility of building a petroleum pipeline.
Modi added that the two leaders have adopted a vision to boost economic cooperation, which would include strengthening maritime, air and energy connectivity, and accelerating mutual cooperation in tourism, trade and higher education.
Sri Lanka’s economic woes
“The past year has been full of challenges for the people of Sri Lanka. Being a close friend, as always, we stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Sri Lanka,” Modi said.
The bilateral meeting comes as Sri Lanka grapples with an ongoing economic crisis.
Sri Lanka defaulted on its foreign debt and sank into a financial crisis last year. India helped with nearly $4 billion in aid, which included food, medicine and fuel.
Recently, the island nation managed to secure help from the International Monetary Fund.
Wickremesinghe said that he has updated Modi on reform measures taken by his government to tackle the crisis.
Discussions about growing Chinese influence
India’s Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said that New Delhi also raised concerns about the “Chinese presence” in Sri Lanka during the discussion, AFP news agency reported.
China is Sri Lanka’s biggest bilateral creditor. Several years ago, a Chinese firm acquired a 99-year lease on an important port after Colombo was unable to repay a hefty construction loan from Beijing.
“The Sri Lankan side did convey to us their sensitivity and respect for our security and strategic concerns relating to what happens in our maritime domain,” Kwatra said at a press briefing.
ara/wmr (AFP, AP, Reuters)