NEW DELHI (AP) — Sri Lanka’s new president was due to arrive in New Delhi on Sunday for his first trip abroad, underlining India’s importance as a regional ally after years of increasingly uneasy relations.
Indian officials will welcome President Maithiripali Sirisena with a ceremony Monday, a banquet and two days of top-tier meetings befitting the countries’ “unique” historical and cultural ties, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said.
Relations between India and Sri Lanka had become tense in recent years, as China grew cosier with the island nation, long considered by India as being within its traditional sphere of influence.
Last year, President Xi Jinping became the first Chinese leader to visit Sri Lanka in 28 years as he courted Colombo’s support for a maritime trade route. Sri Lanka also irked New Delhi by allowing two Chinese submarines to dock along its coastline, and by brokering deals for billions in Chinese loans and infrastructure projects.
Sirisena has said his government will review the loans and projects approved under his powerful predecessor and one-time ally, Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom he defeated in a stunning election upset last month.
While campaigning for the election, Sirisena had criticised the Chinese projects as debt traps, but he has since announced plans to visit China after his India trip.
Meanwhile, Sirisena will be looking this week to boost bilateral trade with India, now standing at around $1 billion.
He and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are also likely to focus talks on Sri Lanka’s efforts to establish reconciliation in the wake of its long civil war, which Sirisena has named a priority for his government.