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Modi promotes neighbourhood-first policy during visit

Published:Monday | June 10, 2019 | 12:25 AM


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Sri Lanka on Sunday for a brief visit as part of his first overseas tour since his re-election that emphasises India’s “neighborhood-first” policy.

Modi was received at the airport by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. He will also hold talks with President Maithripala Sirisena and opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa. He was also scheduled to meet the Indian community in Sri Lanka before returning home.

India has been concerned with Sri Lanka and the neighbouring Maldives leaning towards China, which is seeking more influence in the Indian Ocean region.

Modi arrived from the Maldives, where the new president, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, pledged closer ties with New Delhi in a break from his predecessor’s pro-Beijing policy.

Sri Lanka has leased a Chinese-built port, located near the world’s busiest east-west shipping route, to a Chinese firm in 2017 for 99 years in a bid to recover from the heavy burden of repaying a Chinese loan to build the facility.

Hambantota port is part of Beijing’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative that stretches from Chinese waters to the Persian Gulf. In March this year, China also agreed to provide a $989-million loan to Sri Lanka to build an expressway that will connect the island nation’s tea-growing central region to the southern port.