By Ayushi Agarwal
New Delhi [India], February 4 (ANI): Lauding India's support for Sri Lanka during its worst economic crisis, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India Milinda Moragoda said that India's neighbourhood policy was clearly demonstrated when the country extended its helping hand to the crisis-hit island nation through the credit line and assurances given to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to restructure the country's debt.
In an exclusive interview with ANI, the Sri Lankan envoy hailed India for taking the lead in going before the international community and added that it was quick to step in to support Sri Lanka without any conditions and strings attached.
"India's neighbourhood policy clearly was demonstrated last year when the Sri Lankan economy headed into crisis. India moved in very quickly. Early in 2022, India realized that Sri Lanka was going to have a very serious balance of payments problem. Sri Lankan government and the Indian government discussed that and together worked on a strategy over the last year. India supported us with nearly USD 4 billion, USD 3.9 billion dollars of funding and it was done without any conditions, done without any strings attached," said the Sri Lankan High Commissioner.
He added further by saying that India also moved into helping Colombo in the international community, IMF, the World Bank and also some bilateral partners.
"If we had actually gone for the support of any other organization, international or multilateral organization, it would probably not have got the financial support this quickly. Subsequently, India also moved into helping us in the international community, IMF, the World Bank and also with some bilateral partners. India leads internationally in canvassing support for Sri Lanka," he said.
Talking about the possible investments that the island nation is looking for, the envoy added that when we look at investments in the energy sector, especially renewable energy, there is tremendous potential for wind energy and solar energy, especially in the northwest of Sri Lanka.
"There is a lot of potential for wind energy. We are also looking at Trincomalee, in converting into a petroleum and energy Hub because India's requirements for petroleum are growing. Will grow at about my about 50%. by 2030. So, if Trincomalee can be converted into an energy hub, you can use it as part of India's energy ecosystem. I think there will be a win-win solution there," the envoy said.
Further pointing out the strain in the relationship which was caused by the visit of the Chinese surveillance vessel Yuan Wang 5 to Sri Lanka's Hambantota port last August, the envoy said that there are ups and down between any relationship and that communication and trust are critical pillars during such times.
"In any relationship, there are ups and downs. Especially a relationship that goes back thousands of years. So, what is very important is communication at these times and also trust. And I think we are now willing to establish trust and communication and not difficult issues and I think we have to learn more from one experience. We move to the next and then have to learn and I think we have done that. I think they are establishing trust and I think but what's critical here was that we were communicating all the time and on both sides, there was maturity especially given the fact that Sri Lanka was at that time going through a difficult period and there was a leadership change as well. So I think we have moved on now," the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to India told ANI.
When asked about its relationship balance with India and China, the envoy said that 'there is a civilizational relationship between India and Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka and India DNA is the same so its ties with India cannot be compared with any country.
Highlighting the defence partnership between the two countries, the envoy further stated that there are nearly 400 Sri Lankan military personnel being trained in India and we have a bilateral defence dialogue later this month.
Speaking about the possibility of the Sri Lankan President's India visit, the envoy said that "PM Modi has extended a formal invitation to Sri Lankan President Wickremesinghe to visit India. We hope that he will be able to come to India soon."
On the tourism sector, the High Commissioner pointed out ways the island nation is looking for expansion of tourism and how India remains its primary market.
"We have to do what we can to expand tourism. There is the Sri Lanka tourism Ministry doing promotions in India. We also look at how we can increase connectivity, first connectivity and affordable connectivity are important and we are looking into that aspect as well. And then, of course, I think as the Indian economy grows and as people become more, confident with Sri Lanka, there will be an expansion in tourism. Before Covid, Indian tourism gave us close to 20 to 25 per cent of our tourism. And I think India remains our main source market," said the envoy.
Describing the trade relationship between New Delhi and Colombo, the envoy also highlighted the possibility of using the Indian RuPay card and mechanism.
"That is part of the recovery strategy with India to increase the use of the Indian rupee. They are even looking at the possibility of using the RuPay card and RuPay mechanism. So, that tourists coming to Sri Lanka would find it easier, that is also part of our tourism strategy", he added.
"On the trade side, We have an existing Free Trade Agreement but now we are looking at various means of trying to expand that. Our textile exporters are very interested in exporting to India. In fact, when you look at our balance of trade, now we import around four billion dollars worth of goods from India and India imports around 900 million from us. So, I think there is a lot of scope in that and that is something we are working on" he added.
Speaking on the Sri Lankan and Indian fishermen issue, the High Commissioner said that the two countries must have a dialogue, adding that there are legal, environmental and ecological issues that are crucial and needed to be discussed.
Time and again, there have been periodic instances of Indian fishermen being apprehended by Sri Lankan authorities for allegedly crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line and fishing in Sri Lankan waters. (ANI)