Sirisena’s visit to India: A balancing act?


Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena is all set to visit neighbouring India on May 13 for a second-state visit in 17 months. The visit highlights Sri Lanka’s efforts to balance relations with regional powers, India and China. High-level visits to the country by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and from the Sri Lankan side to India last year have reinvigorated ties between the two countries.

Mr Sirisena will be visiting New Delhi on his return from Britain. He is expected to meet Mr Modi over dinner on May 13. The two leaders plan to participate in the Kumbh mela the following day.

Mr Sirisena’s visit comes a month after Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe visited China and agreed to resume work that had been suspended on a $1.5 billion Chinese-funded port city. This project is said to have raised concerns in New Delhi. India had expressed concerns over the project, as it would allow a heavy Chinese presence in Sri Lanka, which is geographically close to India and separated only by the narrow Palk Strait.

While there are no official details about what the two leaders plan to discuss, India has said that it was confident the visit would strengthen their “close and cooperative” ties. Mr Sirisena’s visit also comes at a time when there is strong opposition to the proposed Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement in Sri Lanka. Some analysts have said that this could allow unemployed Indians to flood Sri Lankan professions such as the information technology and health sectors.

India-Sri Lanka ties had slowed down during the tenure of Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was more favourably disposed towards China.