China sulks as Narendra Modi does balancing act in Sri Lanka

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Colombo | Updated: May 12, 2017 9:36 PM

I believe we are at a moment of great opportunity in our ties with Sri Lanka," Modi added.

Narendra Modi, Prime Minister, Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan Tamils, Dragon sulking, International Vesak Day, Modi, IndiaModi said that the friendship between India and Sri Lanka was “etched in time by the ‘Great Master,'” a reference to the Buddha, whose religion spread from modern-day India to Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. (AP/PTI Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday did a balancing act in Sri Lanka of keeping Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan Tamils ‘close’ that has definitely left the Dragon sulking. After inaugurating the International Vesak Day function, Modi offered India’s continued support to ‘friend’ Sri Lanka. “As you make important choices for harmony and progress of our society, you will find in India a friend and partner that will support your nation-building efforts. I believe we are at a moment of great opportunity in our ties with Sri Lanka,” he added.

Prime Minister Modi not only extended India’s full support to the Sri Lanka on economic and development fronts but also soothed the emotions of Indian origin Sri Lankan Tamils through his ‘medical diplomacy’ via Dickoya Glengairan Hospital, which is a super-specialty hospital built with the Indian assistance of Rs 150 crore.

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India’s total development portfolio to Sri Lanka now exceeds $2.6 billion, of which the grant component is more than USD 436 million. After inaugurating the hospital, when Modi said health and well being of people of Sri Lanka “is a shared priority” then he actually was sending message to the Sri Lankan non-Buddhist Tamils that India cares for them, who are a minority in Sinhalese-Buddhist dominated country.

Later, when he addressed the Sri Lankan Tamils in the presence of Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena and community leaders then he soothed the emotions of Sri Lankan government by saying that “I am aware the Government of Sri Lanka is taking active steps to improve your living conditions including a 5-year National Plan of Action”.

Modi’s superficial agenda of Sri Lanka was apolitical as ‘officially’ he went there mainly to participate International Vesak Day function as a chief guest, but unofficially his visit was much more important diplomatically.

Modi carried along with him a ‘complexed diplomatic responsibility’ to keep Sri Lanka out of the influence of China, which enjoyed hegemony in Colombo during the rule of former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa has been backing hardline Sinhala-Buddhist elements, who completely oppose India’s diplomatic and trade interests in Sri Lanka.

In fact, India’s business interests in Sri Lanka are being opposed vehemently by Rajapaksa backed politicians and trade unions.

Before Modi’s visit, Srisena had to openly denounce the call by the Sri Lankan opposition to show black flags to Modi.

Opposition Parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa alleged that “they (Sri Lanka Government) are trying to sell Sri Lanka to India”.

In fact, Beijing’s grip over Sri Lanka loosened when Rajapaksa lost his bid for a third term in 2015. Had Rajapaksa been in power then instead of Modi Chinese President or Prime Minister would have been given privilege to open International Vesak Day function.

The Sri Lankan opposition and the Dragon definitely would not have liked Srisena’s presence everywhere wherever Modi went on Friday.

It is pertinent to mention here that new Sri Lankan President Sirisena has put several Chinese projects on hold temporarily. It needs to be watched whether Modi’s diplomacy is able to keep Srisena away from Beijing permanently or not.

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