India Trying To Claw Back Ground Lost To China In Sri Lanka
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India Trying To Claw Back Ground Lost To China In Sri Lanka

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Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla prays at the temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla is on a visit to Colombo, while the Indian and Lankan armies will be undertaking a military drill

Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla is on a visit to Colombo and an Indian Army contingent will start a military drill with the Sri Lankan Army on Monday as New Delhi is trying to claw back the ground it lost to China in the neighbouring Indian Ocean island nation.

Shringla is likely to call on Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Foreign Minister G L Peiris during his stay in Colombo, apart from having a meeting with his Sri Lankan counterpart Jayanath Colombage.

He arrived in Colombo late on Saturday and formally commenced his visit on Sunday, with a tour to the oil storage facility built in Trincomalee during World War II and a temple containing Lord Buddha’s relics in Kandy. He also visited Jaffna, the capital of Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority Northern Province, where the Government of India is funding development of an airport in Palaly. He announced that New Delhi would provide funds for maintenance of the Jaffna Cultural Centre for five years.

An all-arms contingent of 120 personnel of the Indian Army also arrived in the island nation to take part in the exercise, Mitra Shakti, along with a battalion of the Sri Lankan Army from Monday. The aim of the exercise is to promote close relations between the armed forces of the two countries and enhance interoperability and to share best practices in counter insurgency and counter terrorism operations, the Ministry of Defence stated in New Delhi.

The exercise will involve tactical level operations at sub unit level in an international Counter Insurgency and Counter Terrorism environment and will go a long way in further strengthening the relationship between both the South Asian Nations and will act as a catalyst in bringing synergy and cooperation at grass root level between both Armies.

The Foreign Secretary’s visit comes just days after India’s Adani Ports and Special Economic Zones Limited clinched a $700 million deal with Sri Lanka Ports Authority to develop and operate the West Container Terminal of the Colombo Port. The deal was significant as the Sri Lankan government had a few months back scrapped a trilateral agreement it had signed with the governments of India and Japan for development of the East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port.

New Delhi suspects that Sri Lanka scrapped the East Container Terminal deal due to pressure from China, although the government led by Gotabaya and Mahinda Rajapaksa maintained that it was cancelled in view of the protests by the port workers.

The government led by the Rajapaksas earlier this year got Sri Lankan Parliament pass the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill, which drew flak for allegedly allowing China to set up a colony in Sri Lanka undermining the sovereignty of the country.

Shringla’s visit to World-War-II-era oil storage tanks in Trincomalee on Sunday was also significant. The Sri Lankan government had leased out the tanks to the Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) – a subsidiary of the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) – in 2003.

The LIOC worked on 14 tanks in the “Lower Tank Farm”, but 84 tanks in the “Upper Tank Farm” remained undeveloped and unused.

The LIOC officials briefed the Foreign Secretary about “the development undertaken at the Lower Tank Farm and the possibilities for further strengthening India-Sri Lanka energy partnership to enhance SL’s energy security”, according to a tweet by the High Commission of India in Colombo.

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