Agreeing to intensify cooperation in combating terrorism and work together for security and stability in the maritime neighbourhood, India and Sri Lanka on Tuesday said that they recognised each other’s “closely aligned security interests” and remained “sensitive to each other’s concerns”. During their bilateral talks on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe are learnt to have discussed the Chinese-backed projects in the island country. New Delhi feels the new government in Colombo is moving in the “right direction” and will follow the “prescribed norms” when it comes to assessing the projects on different parameters, including environment. The Colombo Port City project, being carried out by Chinese firms, is being considered for an environment impact assessment. “We recognise our closely aligned security interests and the need to remain sensitive to each other’s concerns. We both reaffirmed our commitment to deepen our defence and security cooperation,” said Modi.
Stating that Sri Lanka is India’s largest partner in defence training programme, he said the two countries would continue to expand cooperation in this area. The two sides signed four agreements on cooperation in healthcare and space science. Expressing his gratitude to Wickremesinghe for choosing India as his first overseas trip after becoming Prime Minister for the fourth term, Modi hoped the country would achieve “genuine reconciliation” and development so that its people, including the Tamil community, could live a “life of equality, justice, peace and dignity” in a “united Sri Lanka”. On devolution of power to Tamils in northern and eastern provinces, Wickremesinghe said, “We are looking at how power sharing takes place within the Constitution.” India has been pressing Sri Lanka to implement the 13th amendment on devolution of powers to fulfil the aspirations of the ethnic Tamils. “Sri Lanka has voted twice this year for change, reforms, reconciliation and progress. There can be no stronger statement of Sri Lanka’s democratic tradition. There can be no clearer sign of Sri Lanka’s march towards a peaceful, inclusive, and prosperous future,” said Modi. On the fishermen issue, Modi said it was agreed that fishermen’s associations on both sides should continue their efforts to find a solution. “I conveyed to him that this should be seen as a humanitarian issue that affects livelihoods. I informed him of the steps we are taking to encourage Indian fishermen to take up deep sea fishing,” he said. The issue of a comprehensive economic partnership between the two countries was also discussed and the Sri Lankan Prime Minister expressed hope that it would be finalised by next year. “Your (Sri Lanka’s) progress is important for our two countries, South Asia and our maritime region,” said Modi. “Economic cooperation between India and Sri Lanka is nothing new. This has been going on for over 2,500 years. Our target is to make one million jobs in the next five years. We are discussing economic cooperation which emphasises on development. I think we are in a unique position that this government (Sri Lankan government) has a mandate from the people to continue trade and investment with India and for technological development with other countries,” said Wickremesinghe. Modi sought support for Indian investors who are keen to participate in Sri Lanka’s economic development. Terming his discussions with Wickremesinghe as “excellent”, Modi said India would like to see the bilateral trade grow.