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India, Sri Lanka explore land link to counter Chinese influence

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India and Sri Lanka have come together to consider the possibility of establishing a land link between them. During President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s inaugural visit to India, both countries expressed their intention to enhance their ties and strengthen their historical relationship through this strategic move.

The proposed “land connectivity” project would involve constructing a bridge or causeway across the Palk Strait, a narrow stretch of water approximately 25 kilometers (15 miles) wide, separating India’s southern coast from Sri Lanka’s northern region. By creating this link, India would gain direct access to the crucial ports of Trincomalee and Colombo, bolstering trade and geopolitical cooperation between the two nations.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Wickremesinghe discussed the feasibility of the land bridge and also explored plans for a petroleum pipeline during their bilateral talks. These initiatives could further enhance energy security and economic cooperation in the region.

President Wickremesinghe’s visit to India took place amidst a backdrop of significant economic challenges in Sri Lanka. Over the past year, the country experienced frequent street protests due to food, fuel, and medicine shortages. In response, India extended substantial financial assistance of nearly $4 billion, demonstrating its commitment to supporting its neighboring friend during times of crisis.

During the discussions, Indian officials also expressed concerns about China’s growing presence in Sri Lanka. India considers the island nation as part of its sphere of influence, and Beijing’s activities in the region have raised alarms. China has emerged as Sri Lanka’s largest bilateral creditor, and through economic deals, including a 99-year lease on the Hambantota port, it has deepened its foothold in the country. Additionally, a massive land reclamation project near Colombo port, funded by Chinese investment, has raised security concerns in India, who fears that it could be exploited as a potential listening post.

The Palk Strait lies on a crucial international shipping route between Europe and East Asia, and with Colombo and Hambantota as the only deep-sea ports in the area between Dubai and Singapore, the region holds immense strategic importance.

China’s broader Belt and Road Initiative has also seen the country invest in various infrastructure projects across the Indian Ocean region, including in countries like the Maldives, Bangladesh, and Djibouti, where it has established a military base.

India’s worries over China’s activities were heightened when a Chinese research vessel, Yuan Wang 5, made a port call in Hambantota, with New Delhi labeling it as a spy ship. In response to India’s concerns, Sri Lanka has assured that they respect their neighbor’s security and strategic interests in the maritime domain.

Among the other projects discussed in the strategic document, the proposed petroleum pipeline between India and Sri Lanka holds significant promise for ensuring a stable and affordable energy supply for Sri Lanka.

As the two nations move forward with their deliberations on the land link and energy projects, their strengthened partnership could pave the way for a more significant regional influence, potentially countering China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean region.

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