Sri Lankan Foreign Minister on bilateral relations with India, the issue of fishermen and more | Exclusive


Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Prof. GL Peiris, who arrived in Delhi on Sunday for a three-day official visit, had in-depth talks with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Monday.

In an exclusive chat with India Today, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Prof. GL Peiris discussed all facets of bilateral relations.

KEY POINTS OF THE MEETING WITH THE FOREIGN MINISTER OF INDIA

The important takeaway is the transformation of the relationship, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister said when asked about the main takeaways from the meeting held with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar. “It is an elevation to a new level of strategic partnership. It has always been a close relationship between the two countries. We have had ups and downs, problems. It is usual and expected in any close relationship. But , the important thing is that it turns out to be transactional,” the minister said.

He added: “The objective of our meeting was to explore ways and means to make this a win-win situation for both countries through increased connectivity, people-to-people connectivity, tourism, as a third of Tourists coming to Sri Lanka are also grid connectivity, since electricity is an issue for Sri Lanka at the moment, plus closer integration into the Indian economy will certainly be beneficial.

ON CONNECTIVITY

Elaborating further on the subject of connectivity between the two countries, the minister said, “One of the things that is about to be signed is a memorandum of understanding (MoU) of US$15 million (Rs 1,12,08,03,000) to be used for the improvement and expansion of Buddhist temples and monasteries.”

ON SECURITY COOPERATION

Asked about security cooperation plans, the Minister said: “In the security sector, we are considering a 4,000 ton floating dock and the purchase of two Dornier aircraft. In addition, connectivity in all different sections. Even the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm is a valuable storage facility. For India, it is useful for its storage capacity. For Sri Lanka, it is useful for energy security.

ON SAGAR INITIATIVE, CHINA IN THE INDIAN OCEAN

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Sri Lanka last month where he proposed a forum that resembled Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) initiative.

Asked about the development of ties with China, as it is a matter of concern for India, the Sri Lankan foreign minister replied: “There was no reason for this to be mentioned explicitly. because we have covered this ground here. It is a question I am frequently questioned by the Indian media which overlooks the fact that Sri Lanka is at all times determined to prevent any part of its territory from being used to compromise or endanger endanger Indian security interests in any form. have a very special relationship with India,” the minister said, adding, “This has been amply demonstrated by recent events because when we needed the support from India, he was always available”.

Explaining further, he said, “This latest financial support package (Exim Bank Loan) was brokered by our Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa when he was here. collapse in our revenue from tourism and remittances raised by Sri Lankans working in foreign countries, especially in the Gulf All of this is getting back on track Tourists are coming back – around 35,000 a day This was difficult times and in bridging this gap, India’s support has been invaluable.

Similarly, during the maritime disaster, India came to extinguish the flames. Otherwise, the destruction would have been in a far greater proportion in terms of fisheries and resources, he added.

“Even when it comes to Covid-19, the first country that came to the scene with 500,000 vaccines was India. This attitude of goodwill is not limited to any particular situation. Nor is it the result of protracted negotiations or persuasion of any kind.. The essential quality of it is spontaneity, which derives from the closeness of the two countries, not only geographically, but also in terms of economy, history, of culture,” said the minister.

“There is now a growing awareness on both sides that even closer integration between India and Sri Lanka in all these sectors is a win-win situation for both of us,” he added.

ON INDIA’S STRATEGIC POSITION IN SRI LANKA

Asked about India’s strategic placement in Sri Lanka, the minister said: “India’s presence in Sri Lanka is pervasive…health, education, pharmacy, water, sanitation. Across the spectrum, there is has an Indian footprint in Sri Lanka, not in an oppressive way, but in a way that is directly and measurably beneficial to the development of the Sri Lankan economy.

ON THE ISSUE OF FISHERMEN

Asked if any solutions were being discussed with India following the recent clashes between fishermen on both sides, the Minister said: “It’s a real concern. I would say it’s a flashpoint and the one constant irritant in the bilateral relationship as almost every week or fortnight fishermen and boats are arrested Sometimes there is violence and then we focus on resolving the problem. We really need a viable and lasting solution to this,” he said.

He added that there will soon be a high-level meeting in Colombo, which will involve not only foreign ministers but also fisheries ministers. “The solution will not be found immediately, while the problem is immediate and continues to surface literally every week, so we need to address it. We don’t want it to get worse. That’s the only spoiler potential in what is otherwise an unqualified warm and cordial relationship,” he said.

ON THE DISCHARGE OF CHINESE FERTILIZER BY SRI LANKA

When asked if there was a move from China to India, the Sri Lankan foreign minister replied, “I wouldn’t say a move from one country to another. The Chinese have always been good friends. We are not denigrating this or minimizing this. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), no matter what, has brought benefits to Sri Lanka.”

THE DEBT TRAP IS A MISCONCEPTION

There has been speculation that Sri Lanka is trapped in debt. When asked to comment, the Minister replied: “There is this misconception of a debt trap. That we have borrowed more money than we can repay, resulting in the transfer of capital own. That’s just not true. Because we didn’t take out loans indiscriminately. Loans were taken out for productive purposes.”

‘LAST GOVERNMENT TO BE BLAMED FOR DELAYED LOAN PAYMENTS’

On the delay in repaying the loans contracted by the country, the Sri Lankan minister accused the previous government. “A lot has gone off the rails due to the irresponsible actions of the government that was elected between 2015 and 2019. There was never any danger that Sri Lanka would be unable to repay the loans and therefore succumb to some kind of economic domination. Chinese. It’s a misconception,” he said.

INDIAN INTERESTS WILL NEVER BE THREATENED

Last but not least, when asked to comment on Indian interests under threat, the Minister replied, “Indian interests will never be under threat. If we talk about the Chinese footprint, the Indian presence in Sri Lanka stretches across the spectrum. . It’s not intimidating. It doesn’t scare us. It is in the interest of both countries.

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