Sri Lanka’s new president heads to India this weekend on his first foreign trip in office, seeking to rebuild ties hit by tensions over growing Chinese influence on the strategically located island.
Maithripala Sirisena swept to power last month, ending a decade of rule by former president Mahinda Rajapakse, whose close alliance with Beijing had sparked serious concerns in New Delhi.
China ploughed huge sums into Sri Lankan infrastructure projects, becoming the country’s biggest foreign financier and enjoying significant political and even military influence on the island under Rajapakse.
India has long considered Sri Lanka to be within its strategic sphere of influence, sending troops to the island in 1987 to enforce a New Delhi-brokered peace accord between Colombo and separatist Tamil rebels.
New Delhi was reported to have been furious at the brief appearance last year of two Chinese submarines in Sri Lankan waters.
Sri Lankan officials said Sirisena, whose administration last week reversed approval for a controversial $1.4 billion Chinese project, would aim to allay Indian fears when he meets Prime Minister Modi on Monday.