India could play multiple roles in the post-pandemic world – as the pharmacy of the world, or as one of the many poles of a multi-polar world.
India’s outreach programmes include strategic alliances, and significant visits like the one undertaken by India’s Foreign Minister Dr S Jaishankar, who is currently in Sri Lanka. Jaishankar called on Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to discuss cooperation in the post-pandemic world especially in areas of health and economy.
Dr S Jaishankar also met his Lankan counterpart – Dinesh Gunawardena. India called on Sri Lanka to further the aspirations of Lanka’s Tamil minorities. Issues of maritime security and safety also featured in the talks, as did coronavirus.
“As two close neighbours with such obvious synergies, the potential for further strengthening our cooperation is enormous. Some of that may help provide immediate relief, others would have very positive medium-term implications for Sri Lanka’s development”, Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar said.
“During our talks, we focused on multiple areas of mutual cooperation in the identified sectors of economics, finance, trade, commerce, defence, security and fisheries, cultural and particularly on the ongoing covid-19 pandemic and the post-covid era that we are moving (towards)”, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.
Sri Lanka expressed interest in accessing vaccines from India. “India’s neighbourhood first policy has made a positive impact on the health sector and economy during this period of unprecedented crisis”, Gunawardena said.
India has promised vaccines to Bangladesh, and New Delhi has also assured help to Bhutan and Nepal, and has maintained close ties with its neighbours through the pandemic.
In November 2020, India’s Army Chief – General MM Naravane visited Nepal. On December 17 – India’s Prime Minister- Narendra Modi held a virtual summit with his Bangladeshi counterpart – Sheikh Hasina. Dr Jaishankar is the first foreign dignitary to visit Sri Lanka in 2021.
Colombo is critical to the regional geopolitics – given China’s influence, and Sri Lanka’s location. Beijing has invested nearly $15 billion in Sri Lanka. In 2017, Colombo handed over its Hambantota port to Beijing as a debt swap.
After exporting the virus, China offered a grant of $90 million to Sri Lanka. It also promised an additional $500 million loan – repayable in ten years.
The number of Chinese workers in Sri Lanka is on the rise. For China – debt trapping Sri Lanka means securing a strategic location in the Indian ocean. India views Sri Lanka as a partner – one it shares history, culture and people-to-people relations with.
As India prepares itself for a leadership role in the post-pandemic world, one of its many challenges will be to ensure that its neighbours like Sri Lanka remain free from the clutches of China.