Charting a New Trajectory in India-Sri Lanka Relations

India and Sri Lanka have enjoyed a cordial and relatively stable relationship since their independence. In the post-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) era, the neighbours align over key security and economic objectives, which includes maintaining freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean region, combating the threat of terrorism, and working together towards a more prosperous South Asian neighbourhood. Yet the relationship is in need of a fresh impetus. Over the years, Sri Lanka has drifted towards China for economic support and views her as a more reliable partner in enabling domestic economic development. This has generated concern in New Delhi over the state of the bilateral relationship between the two countries, which views Beijing’s proximity to its neighbours as undermining India’s influence in the island nation.

Killing of Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy, as well as the cancellation of the East Container Terminal port contract to India are lingering issues that have added to these concerns. In addition, the Sri Lankan government led by the Rajapaksa family are historically known to be closer to China than India and these developments have made India and her allies worried about China’s growing clout in the Indo-Pacific waters. China, for instance, is set to commence the construction of a US $13 billion city on Sri Lanka’s seafront close to Colombo, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal.

Therefore, despite the convergence of objectives and interests, there is an urgent need for India and Sri Lanka to carefully and deliberately reinvigorate their bilateral relationship.