President Arrives In India

February 15, 2015

President Maithripala Sirisena arrived in India a short while ago, on his first foreign trip in office, trying to rebuild ties hit by tensions over growing Chinese influence on the strategically located island.

He landed in New Delhi for the four-day trip aimed at allaying Indian fears over China’s influence on the island that strengthened under President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decade-long rule. Sirisena, accompanied by his wife Jayanthi Pushpa Kumari, waved to waiting media before being greeted at the airport by India’s junior minister for shipping P Radhakrishnan.

He will meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi tomorrow and also attend a banquet held by the President of India in his honor.

India has long considered Sri Lanka to be within its strategic sphere of influence.

But China ploughed huge sums into Sri Lankan infrastructure projects, becoming the country’s biggest foreign financier and enjoying significant political and even military influence under Rajapakse.

Critics say China is trying to develop facilities around the Indian Ocean in a “string of pearls” strategy to counter the rise of its Asian rival India and secure its own economic interests.

“We expect substantial talks; we expect outcomes in terms of agreements, in terms of frameworks, and in terms of announcements,” India’s foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told reporters ahead of his arrival.

Sirisena is expected to try to secure greater Indian investment in Sri Lanka, which said last week it was seeking an international bailout of more than $4.0 billion.

He will also travel to the Buddhist pilgrimage site of Bodh Gaya and a Hindu temple in Tirupati further south on Tuesday before leaving on Wednesday.

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