National Security Adviser Ajit Doval on Saturday met Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Colombo and discussed key bilateral issues including economic development and strategic cooperation.
“A very cordial discussion was held with National Security Advisor of #India, Ajit Doval today. Strengthening of bilateral cooperation on national security, intelligence sharing, maritime security & fostering of regional collaboration, were some of the key points of discussion,” President Rajapaksa said in tweet soon after the meeting. A statement from his office said the two countries discussed strengthening military ties.
The visit, which was not announced in advance, comes as part of the high-level engagement since the November presidential elections that Mr. Gotabaya had won with a huge mandate.
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar was in Colombo on the day Mr. Rajapaksa assumed charge. Newly elected President Rajapaksa visited New Delhi on his first state visit abroad late November. More recently, Foreign Relations Minister Dinesh Gunawardena was in India for bilateral meetings. Early February, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is scheduled to visit New Delhi.
The meeting comes less than a week after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit when he pledged that China would stand by Sri Lanka and not allow “outside influences” to ‘interfere’ in its internal matters.
Among the issues discussed by the visiting NSA and President Rajapaksa, who hosted Mr. Doval for lunch following the meeting, was “countering and preventing debt traps”, Colombo-based sources told The Hindu.
In Sri Lanka, “debt trap” is commonly used in references to the outstanding debt to China, borrowed for a host of massive infrastructure projects including the southern Hambantota Port, for which China holds a 99-year lease. According to the Finance Ministry, the external debt stood at $32.6 billion at the end of 2018, of which Chinese loans amount to 12 %.
Prime Minister Rajapaksa had in the past denied being ‘trapped’ in debt to China. He told the Chinese news agency Xinhua in December his government “will never forget” China’s long-standing support. According to a report published by the agency, he said he did not believe that engagement with China’s Belt and Road Initiative amounted to a “debt-trap”.