India seals nuclear deal with Sri Lanka in a bid to keep China away
NEW DELHI: India on Monday sealed a nuclear energy
agreement with Sri Lanka, its first breakthrough with the new government of the
tiny Indian Ocean Island where China has been building ports and highways in a
diplomatic push in recent years.
Four agreements were inked in total and they are on
cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, on cultural cooperation, a
MoU on establishment of Nalanda University, and a MoU on cooperation in
Under the nuclear deal, India will help Sri Lanka
build its nuclear energy infrastructure, including training of personnel, the
Indian foreign ministry said. Later, India could also sell light small-scale
nuclear reactors to Sri Lanka which wants to establish 600 MW of nuclear
capacity by 2030, a Sri Lankan official and an Indian analyst said.
The deal came as Sri Lankan President Maithripala
Sirisena began a visit to India, his first trip abroad since he swept to power
in January, which has provided New Delhi with an opening to repair ties that
had become tense under his predecessor.
“The bilateral agreement on civil nuclear cooperation
is yet another demonstration of our mutual trust,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi
said while addressing the media after the delegation level talks held at Hyderabad
House in the national capital.
He said it is the first such agreement that Sri Lanka
has signed and it “opens new avenues for cooperation, including in areas like
agriculture and healthcare”.
Both sides held talks on the issue of peace and
reconciliation process in the island nation over a working lunch. Congratulating
Sirisena on his Jan 8 election, Modi said, “India is Sri Lanka’s closest
neighbour and friend. The goodwill and support of the people of India will
always be with you.”
Modi also assured Sirisena of ‘India’s commitment to
its development partnership’ which would continue to cover areas, including
infrastructure. On the ticklish fishermen’s issue, Modi said both leaders “attach
the highest importance to the issue” and have agreed for a “constructive and
humanitarian approach” to it.
India had grown increasingly wary of former president
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s pursuit of closer ties with China, which became a key
supporter of the island's economy after its 26-year-civil war ended in 2009.
China has built a seaport in the south of the country
and signed a deal to develop a $1.5 billion port next to the commercial port in
Colombo, raising fears Beijing is seeking influence in the island state with
which New Delhi has had historical ties.