Colombo: 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.
During the visit, the CAS shall also interact with student officers of the National Defence College, Sri Lanka and visit the Sri Lankan Air Force Academy, an official statement said.
The visit will enhance the existing professional ties and bonds of mutual cooperation between both nations, 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.