As China tightens grip, Sri Lanka looks to boost India defence ties



NEW DELHI: Amid concerns over growing Chinese footprints in Sri Lanka, the island nation is looking to boost defence and security ties with India with an integrated country strategy paper drafted under new high commissioner Milinda Moragoda, who finally took charge here on August 30, calling for a significantly enhanced cooperation. Frequent joint military exercises and more high-level military exchanges, utilisation of India’s $50 million counter-terrorism line of credit, increasing the staff strength of defence adviser’s office and resolution of the politically sensitive issue of displaced persons (Sri Lankan Tamils) residing in Tamil Nadu, are some of the measures outlined in the paper.

The office of the Lankan high commissioner had remained vacant since January 2020. While Moragoda was named last year, it’s only now that he has assumed official duty. This period coincided with some serious turbulence in bilateral ties following Sri Lanka’s decision to unilaterally banish India and Japan from the Colombo port’s East Container Terminal project that the three countries had agreed to jointly develop in a tripartite agreement. India was then forced to publicly remind Sri Lanka of the need to adhere to international commitments.


The Rajapaksa family’s apparent proximity to China further fuelled the “trust deficit’’ in recent times. Moragoda is now seeking to address the same through the strategy proposal before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Outlining key tasks for Lankan missions in India, the proposal seeks to enhance the partnership to a strategic level by expanding bilateral cooperation in defence and Indian Ocean maritime security and says this would safeguard Sri Lanka’s strategic interests.

India had in 2019 announced a $50 million special line of credit for counter-terrorism activities which, as the paper notes, Sri Lanka is yet to utilise. “Seeking useful ways to utilise this special line of credit would be important. It is understood that more lines of credit in the defence sector are in the pipeline,’’ it says.