Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Two Asian powers and an island

Unlike China, India has not accomplished much in Sri Lanka since 2015.
By IASToppers
October 03, 2019


  • Introduction
  • Sri Lanka –China relations
  • India’s investment in Sri Lanka
  • India-Sri Lanka Ties
  • What needs to be done?
  • Conclusion

Two Asian powers and an island

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  • The Lotus Tower in Colombo, which was opened to the public recently, is considered to be the latest symbol of Sri Lanka-China ties.

Lotus Tower in Colombo

  • An agreement to build this telecommunication tower was signed between Sri Lanka and China in 2012.

Sri Lanka –China relations

Strong anti-chinese culture

  • Most of the constriction of Lotus Tower took place at a time when there was a strong anti-Chinese culture in Sri Lanka.


  • In 2015, Sri Lankan prime minister announced to scrap the $1.4 billion Colombo Port City which was backed by china.
  • Moreover, there was uncertainty over the construction of Hambantota port.

Disputes resolved

  • However, china has been able to resolve all the controversies over these projects.
  • The Port City’s execution is underway. When it’s construction is completed, it will stand beside the Colombo port, which serves as a major transshipment hub for India.
  • A Chinese company has got Hambantota on lease for 99 years. More importantly, Sri Lanka is a member-country of the Belt and Road Initiative.
  • As per Central Bank of Sri Lanka, imports from China accounted for 18.5%, just a little less than the 19% from India.

India’s investment in Sri Lanka

In recent years, India has only couple of projects in Sri Lanka such as

  • Building 60,000 homes for Tamils of the civil war-torn Northern and Eastern Provinces as well as those in the hill country region,
  • Provision of ambulance services all over Sri Lanka.
  • An agreement with Sri Lanka was signed in July 2019 to upgrade a key railway segment, connecting the north and the south.
  • However, apart from having a joint venture with Japan and Sri Lanka to develop the East Container Terminal at the Colombo Port, India did not take any major infrastructure project in Sri Lanka.
  • Not much is known about the status of a project to renovate the Kankesanthurai harbour, for which India provided over $45 million in 2018.
  • There is also little progress in India’s proposals to develop the Palaly airport (where commercial flight services in a limited way are expected to be launched shortly).
  • In addition, the Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement, an improved version of the existing bilateral Free Trade Agreement, has been shelved.

India-Sri Lanka Ties

  • India’s assistance during the 2004 tsunami and Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Colombo in June (the first foreign dignitary to do so) in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks show deeper ties between the two nations.

Anti-Tamil riot of 1983

  • However, the anti-Tamil riot of 1983 was detrimental to India- Sri Lanka relations. Events such as the withdrawal of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in 1990 and the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 made India adopt an uninvolved approach to Sri Lanka till the final phase of the civil war.
  • In the last five months of the war that ended in 2009, India repeatedly conveyed to Sri Lanka that the rights of the civilian population should not violate. However, this was not considered sufficient by those who have been accusing the Indian government of having played a role in the LTTE’s defeat.
  • At the end in 1987, the Tamil war was resolved by Rajiv Gandhi-Jayawardene Accord of 1987 and the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, envisaging devolution of powers for provinces.

Delay in Projects

  • When Sri Lankan Prime Minister visited India in 2018, India expressed concern over delays in projects proposed by India.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister visited India in 2018

  • The joint development of an oil storage facility in Trincomalee is one such project which has been discussed for years.

What needs to be done?

  • India must discuss with the upcoming new Sri Lankan president to not only get expeditious approvals for all the pending infrastructure projects but also contribute to a holistic development of Sri Lanka’s youth.
  • India should also make one more attempt to encourage the voluntary repatriation of nearly 95,000 refugees who live in Tamil Nadu back to Sri Lanka.
  • India should sustain its interest on developmental issues concerning the hill country Tamils, regarded as the most backward in Sri Lanka.
  • Moreover, India and Sri Lanka should resume ferry services between Talaimannar and Rameswaram which was suspended in 1983 in the wake of war between the LTTE and Sri Lankan government.


  • The Indian government is willing to help Sri Lanka for its economic development. As once stated by the High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka, “Our aid is not to raid or invade”. However, India needs proper response from the Tamil political leadership.
  • A benign approach, backed by the sincerity of purpose, will not only earn India greater respect of Sri Lankans, but also send a message to other international players about the strength of its ties with Sri Lanka.


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