Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Tuesday assured India that his country would not be allowed to be used for "any activity" that could pose a threat to India's security, as he explained Colombo's ties with China in a "comprehensive manner" to Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and exchanged views with him on a wide range of issues, including post-pandemic revival of the economy.
Foreign Secretary Shringla called on President Rajapaksa before he wrapped up his four-day visit to the island nation to review the bilateral ties. The meeting took place a day after the president returned from the US after attending the annual UN General Assembly.
“Sri Lanka would not be allowed to be used for any activity that could pose a threat to India's security,” Rajpaksa conveyed it to Shringla during the meeting, a presidential release said.
Rajapaksa explained the nature of Sri Lanka’s relationship “with China in a comprehensive manner and informed the Indian Foreign Secretary not to have any doubts about it,” it said.
China has been ramping up its presence in Sri Lanka, investing billions of dollars in various infrastructure projects, including ports.
Beijing is also providing financial assistance to Sri Lanka as its economy struggles under the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sri Lanka is also key to China's Belt and Road initiative (BRI), an ambitious infrastructure project that aims to expand the country's influence and global trade links.
A strategic port that was built by Chinese companies at Hambantota - which Sri Lanka has not been able to repay and therefore handed over to Beijing in 2017 on a 99-year lease - has enhanced Beijing's presence on the island. India is also concerned over China's plans to build a brand new city with Chinese funds off the coast of Colombo on reclaimed land.
Rajapaksa told Shringla that Indian investors are invited to invest in the island and Sri Lanka was keen to resolve the situation regarding the Trincomalee oil tanks in a manner that is beneficial to both countries, the release from the president's office said.
The World War II-era oil storage facility in the strategically advantaged port district of Trincomalee has been a key bilateral economic partnership link for decades.
Since 2003, the Lanka IOC, the Sri Lankan subsidiary of India's oil major Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), has the leasing rights to 99 tanks at the facility for a period of 35 years for an annual payment of USD 100,000.
Shringla's visit to the site on Sunday assumes significance as oil sector trade unions in Sri Lanka have demanded that tanks be brought under the control of the state fuel entity Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC).
Earlier, President Rajapaksa tweeted that he had a fruitful discussion with Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla.
"Both agreed on the need for strengthening the lasting bond b/w 2 countries. I invited Indian investors to come to #SriLanka, while we discussed tourism, power generation & post-pandemic economy revival," he said.
Earlier, the High Commission of India (HCI) here, giving details of the meeting, said in a tweet, "they reaffirmed the strong ties of friendship & cooperation between India & Sri Lanka and discussed ways to further advance this comprehensive partnership at all levels."
The Sri Lankan President elaborated on the need to re-establish the friendship and relations between India and Sri Lanka that existed in the 1960s and 70s.
President Rajapaksa said that he is expecting to obtain India's support in advancing the 1971 proposal to declare the Indian Ocean a peace zone.
The long standing problems faced by the fishermen of the two countries could be resolved by identifying immediate solutions to the existing problems and providing the benefits rightfully owed by the fishing community, the release from the president's office said.
On India’s concerns over the 13th Amendment, Rajapaksa pointed out the urgent need to understand the weaknesses as well as the strengths of the 13th Amendment, it said.
Shringla, in his meetings with the Tamil minority parties, had stressed the Indian commitment to the 13th Amendment as means to bring about reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
India has been consistently calling upon Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitments to protect the interests of the Tamil community and preserve the island nation's character as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.
The 13th Amendment provides for devolution of power to the Tamil community. India has been pressing Sri Lanka to implement the 13th amendment which was brought in after the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement of 1987.
A release from the Indian High Commission said the foreign secretary underscored the importance India attaches to expeditiously taking forward mutually beneficial projects, including proposals to enhance air and sea connectivity between India and Sri Lanka.
He thanked the president for his guidance and close cooperation in the defence and security sphere.
During his meeting with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Monday, Shringla mentioned that India-Sri Lanka relations are underpinned by vibrant people-to-people ties which would be further strengthened with signing of the inter-governmental MoU for the USD 15 million Buddhism grant.
Shringla mentioned that the Indian government looked forward to welcoming the inaugural flight from Sri Lanka to Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh which would further bolster cultural links between the two countries.
Recalling India’s strong cultural and civilisational links with Jaffna, he said that India would extend support to the Sri Lankan government for the maintenance of the Jaffna Cultural Centre built with Indian grant assistance, the release said.
Shringla's meeting with Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa focussed on the strong economic and commercial relations between India and Sri Lanka.
In this connection, both sides agreed to make progress on joint projects, including those under the loan and grant assistance extended by the Indian government.
Shringla held wide-ranging and comprehensive discussions with the Foreign Minister G L Peiris and his Lankan counterpart Admiral (Retd) Prof.
Jayanath Colombage on all areas of mutual interest, including on the need to face the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic together to mitigate its economic impact.
"The extensive and warm discussions held during Foreign Secretary’s meetings with all interlocutors and the joint inauguration of development cooperation projects will impart further impetus to the close, friendly and mutually beneficial ties between India and Sri Lanka," the IHC statement said.
In all his engagements, Shringla underscored India’s willingness to pursue economic and commercial ties between the two countries and post pandemic economic recovery by taking forward joint projects of mutual benefit was emphasised, officials said.
The Indian High Commission said that the foreign secretary's visit involving notable engagements in Colombo, Kandy, Trincomalee and Jaffna was "productive".
The Foreign Secretary also interacted with the Indian High Commission officers at the Mission premises on Tuesday.
"Team HCI is truly grateful for his words of encouragement and support," the IHC said in another tweet.