COLOMBO, May 1 (PTI): Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhari arrived here on Monday on a four-day official visit to Sri Lanka during which he will meet the country’s top political and military leaders and discuss ways to enhance bilateral defence cooperation, amid China’s growing influence in the island nation.
The Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) is visiting Sri Lanka at the invitation of Commander of Sri Lanka Air Force, Air Marshal S K Pathirana.
“Underlining the strong India-Sri Lanka defence ties, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari CAS @IAF_MCC arrived on a 4-day visit to Sri Lanka. He was warmly received by AVM RAUP Rajapaksa, Chief of Staff @airforcelk and Deputy HC @VinodKJacob76 on arrival,” the Indian High Commission here tweeted.
“He will be meeting the political and military leadership of Sri Lanka and discussing avenues for enhancing bilateral defence cooperation during the visit,” it said.
The visit will enhance the existing professional ties and bonds of mutual cooperation between both nations, an official statement said.
“The visit symbolises strong relations and close cooperation between the two friendly neighbours, with Sri Lanka being accorded the status of ‘Priority One’ partner by India. Underlining the strong bonds of friendship between the two services,” the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka said in a statement on Monday.
As part of India’s commitment towards capacity building of Sri Lanka Armed Forces, Chief of Air Staff of Indian Air Force would be presenting AN-32 propellers to ensure high operational readiness of the aircraft held with Sri Lanka Air Force, it said.
He would also be interacting with students at the prestigious National Defence College, Sri Lanka and the Air Force Academy, China Bay, wherein training aids for the students would be gifted, it added.
“The visit of Chief of Air Staff, Indian Air Force would strengthen the existing relations between the two countries and facilitate discussions on common security challenges and enhancing capacity and capability building initiatives towards ensuring Security And Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR), as propounded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” the statement said.
In February 2021, at the invitation of Commander, Sri Lanka Air Force, a 22 aircraft contingent of the Indian Air Force participated in the 70th anniversary celebrations of Sri Lanka Air Force.
In addition, the Indian Air Force was the first responder by deploying its assets expeditiously for providing 12T medical supplies in May 2020 and 100T nano fertilisers in November 2021, it said.
In August last year, Vice Chief of Indian Navy Vice Admiral S N Ghormade paid a two-day visit to Sri Lanka and handed over a Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft to the island nation’s Navy to further boost bilateral defence partnership.
Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe was present at the handover ceremony. The ceremony took place as India celebrated the 75th anniversary of its independence. The ceremony to hand over the aircraft also happened a day before Yuan Wang 5, a Chinese missile and satellite tracking ship docked at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port.
India’s concerns come amidst China’s growing influence in Sri Lanka – which is currently struggling to come out of a severe economic crisis.
Beijing has loaned billions of dollars to Sri Lanka as part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to build infrastructure in Asia. However, some of the infrastructure projects under the BRI have not worked in Sri Lanka’s favour.
In 2017, for example, China Merchants Port Holdings took a majority share with a 99-year lease in Hambantota port – where the Yuan Wang 5 was docked – after Colombo struggled to repay the debt incurred to build it.