Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday conveyed to Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa that India will always stand by the island nation as it holds a central role in New Delhi’s ‘neighbourhood first policy’. Sri Lanka expects USD 1 billion Line of Credit (LoC) from India to tide over its economic crisis and an agreement on additional financial assistance is likely to be finalized on Thursday, people familiar with developments said.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that Rajapaksa briefed Modi about the initiatives being taken by the two countries to enhance bilateral economic cooperation and thanked India for the support extended to Sri Lanka’s economy. According to the Sri Lankan High Commission, Modi and Rajapaksa held “extensive discussions” on the complex issue of fishermen and agreed on the urgent need to find a permanent solution.
There have been frequent attacks on Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy and this remains a sticky issue. “The Prime Minister spoke about Sri Lanka’s central role in India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and its SAGAR (Security and Development for All in the Region) doctrine. He reiterated that India will stand by the friendly people of Sri Lanka,” Foreign Ministry said.
Last month, India extended a USD 500 million loan to Sri Lanka to help it procure petroleum products, as the island nation grapples with a severe foreign exchange and energy crisis. Prime Minister Modi tweeted, “Had a good meeting with the Finance Minister of Sri Lanka @RealBRajapaksa. Glad to see our economic partnership strengthen and investments from India increase.”
The Sri Lankan High Commission said Rajapaksa met Modi, during which he thanked the prime minister for all the assistance provided by India to Sri Lanka in this “difficult time”. “Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi said that India will always stand by Sri Lanka, a close friendly neighbor, when Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa called on him this afternoon,” the High Commission said in a statement.
It said Modi and Rajapaksa discussed a range of issues related to bilateral relations, including agriculture, renewable energy, tourism and fisheries. “The two dignitaries also agreed that cooperation in the development of renewable energy in Sri Lanka is mutually beneficial and should be pursued with enthusiasm,” the High Commission said.
It said Modi and Rajapaksa recognized the “complex and multifaceted” aspects of the fishermen issue. “Prime Minister Modi and Minister Rajapaksa held wide-ranging discussions on the issue of fisheries between the two countries and recognized its complex and multifaceted aspects including humane treatment of fishermen, livelihoods, enforcement, ecology of the sea, early release of arrested fishermen and their boats .etc,” it said.
“The two dignitaries also agreed on the urgent need to find a permanent solution to this complex issue,” it said. The Foreign Ministry said in its statement that Rajapaksa noted the deep people-to-people ties between the two countries, including in the cultural sphere.
“The Prime Minister pointed to the possibility of increasing tourist inflows through joint promotion of Buddhist and Ramayana tourism circuits,” it said. In the evening, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla called on Rajapaksa.
“FS @harshvshringla meets visiting Finance Minister @RealBRajapaks in Sri Lanka. Discussed bilateral economic and commercial cooperation and opportunities in the aftermath of the pandemic. Sri Lanka is an integral part of our #NeighbourhoodFirst policy. India has always been a reliable partner for Sri Lanka. Will stay.” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi tweeted.