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COLOMBO – Sri Lanka’s president arrives in India on Thursday for his first visit to the regional power, but New Delhi has raised concerns over China’s growing influence on the strategically located but financially bankrupt island.

Sri Lanka’s new leader usually visits India within a few weeks of taking office.

But Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit came just one year after he took office. Following the overthrow of his predecessor In the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis.

As Sri Lanka washed ashore, Confusion from daily street protests Over shortages of food, fuel and medicine, India poured nearly US$4 billion (SGD5 billion) in aid to restore supplies and stabilize the island.

Loans and lines of credit were granted even though Sri Lanka defaulted on US$46 billion of external debt and lost access to international financial markets.

“Without India’s help, Sri Lanka could be in anarchy,” said political commentator Viktor Ivan.

“The president needs to not only thank them, but reassure them that we will do nothing to hurt them,” he added.

“At the same time, Sri Lanka cannot let go of China because China is also a very important economic partner.”

China is Sri Lanka’s largest bilateral creditor, and a Chinese company acquired a 99-year lease on Hambantota’s southern port after Colombo failed to repay a huge loan from the Chinese government to build Hambantota port.

A US$1.4 billion reclamation project adjacent to the Port of Colombo, the largest foreign investment ever in Sri Lanka, has heightened India’s fears that Beijing will use the port as a surveillance post. Initially, part of it was to become China’s sovereign territory.

Sri Lanka lies on the main international shipping lanes between Europe and East Asia, and the only deep-sea ports between Dubai and Singapore are Colombo and Hambantota.

New Delhi sees the area as its own backyard, and officials have become wary of Beijing’s activities.

As part of its One Belt, One Road initiative, China has also signed other infrastructure deals with countries around the Indian Ocean, including the Maldives, Bangladesh and Djibouti, which has military bases. Sri Lanka’s President Wickremesinghe Aims to Allay India’s China Concerns

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