India’s Modi wants deeper ties with Sri Lanka

India’s Modi wants deeper ties with Sri Lanka

The Associated Press

India’s prime minister emphasized common heritage with Sri Lanka as he tried to woo the island neighbor that’s become an important cog in China’s plans for control of the Indian Ocean.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a speech on May 12, 2017, in the Sri Lankan capital to mark the International Day of Vesak, the remembrance of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death, as part of his two-day visit to the country. He later met tea plantation workers with Indian ancestry.

Modi said friendship between India and Sri Lanka is “etched in time by the  ‘Great Master,’ ” a reference to Buddha.

“Buddhism imparts an ever-present radiance to our relationship,” Modi said in his speech in Colombo. “It draws its strength as much through our interconnected values of Buddhism as it does from the limitless possibilities of our shared future.”

Modi’s emphasis on a common Buddhist heritage and shared history appears to be part of a new strategy of seeking untapped avenues to strengthen relations with Sri Lanka, which sits just 32 kilometers off India’s east coast. (Pictured: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Sri Lankan Buddhist monks during a ceremony in Colombo, Sri Lanka.)

China has also been courting Sri Lanka, using trade deals and infrastructure pacts to build influence. China unnerved India by building a seaport on Sri Lanka’s southern tip, a part of Beijing’s so called string-of-pearls plan for a line of ports stretching from its waters all the way to the Persian Gulf.

Sri Lanka’s government has tried to balance both Asian giants since coming to power in 2015. It withdrew a previous agreement to give China part of an artificial island it is building for Sri Lanka.