EXTERNAL AFFAIRS MINISTER’S VISIT TO SRI LANKA
27th January, 2023 International Relations
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Context: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s visit to Sri Lanka, after his visit to the Maldives, conveyed 1) glad tidings, 2) a much-delayed invitation, and 3) two strong messages on India’s expectations of its nearest Indian Ocean neighbour. Taken together, the three provide an understanding of how Delhi views its relations with Colombo.
The good news:
- Jaishankar’s visit came a day after India had conveyed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that India strongly supports Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring plan.
- India is the first bilateral creditor to do so. Sri Lanka has sought similar reassurances from China and other creditors as well.
- The creditors’ main concern is that the restructuring plan must treat all creditors equally. India and China did not accept the invitation of the Paris Club — a group of 22 OECD nations of which Japan is part — to join the platform. India and Japan have been in bilateral discussions with Sri Lanka; China is yet to say clearly what it wants.
- The Sri Lankans were appreciative of last year’s $ 4 billion bailout from New Delhi; they would now be even more acutely aware that not only did Beijing not pitch in last year, its seeming reluctance to give the assurance the IMF requires, could derail any recovery plan.
- Of the total bilateral debt, China’s share is 52 percent, Japan’s 19.5 percent, and India’s 12 percent.
- President Wickremesinghe’s first two visits abroad were to Japan and the UK, for the funerals of Minister Shinzo Abe and Queen Elizabeth respectively.
- This is the first time since at least the 1990s that it has taken so long for New Delhi to invite a new Sri Lankan President. Wickremesinghe will “visit India at an early date to discuss how our partnership can facilitate Sri Lanka’s strong recovery”.
- Jaishankar’s first blunt message was that financial assistance is a quick-fix that cannot on its own put Sri Lanka on the path of economic recovery. India was ready to help with the investment it needs, but Colombo must create the right environment. India, Jaishankar made it clear, was interested in the energy, tourism, and infrastructure sectors.
- Sri Lanka’s renewable energy potential is said to be much more than it can consume. Selling the surplus to India by connecting to an Indian grid through undersea cables is projected as a sustainable source of revenue.
- Also, the oil storage capacity in Trincomalee could be utilised to provide energy security both to Sri Lanka and the region.
- Jaishankar announced that the two countries had “agreed in principle on a renewable energy framework that would take this co-operation forward”.
- The second message is one that India has sent loudly and emphatically over the past few months — asking the Sri Lankan government to implement the 13th amendment in its constitution.
- The amendment, which provides for elected provincial councils, was introduced at India’s intervention in 1987. It is the only concession in the constitution on the Tamil demand for devolution.
- The amendment — opposed tooth and nail by Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists both then and now — was intended to create a provincial council in Sri Lanka’s Tamil north-east. As it could not be an exceptional provision, the whole country was carved into provinces for the first time.
- The first provincial council in the north-east, in 1989-90, was short-lived.
- The next elections to the northern and eastern provincial councils (the region had been separated into two by then) were held only in 2013, four years after the civil war ended. That was also the last time Sri Lanka conducted provincial council elections.
- Jaishankar, who met leaders of the Tamil National Alliance, said the “full implementation of the 13th amendment” and early provincial council elections were “critical” for Sri Lanka’s political stability.
MUST READ: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/india-sri-lanka-relations-28