India-Japan look to restart trilateral cooperation with Sri Lanka, but with caution

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More than two years after Sri Lanka cancelled a joint India-Japan MoU for the East Container Terminal (ECT) project in Colombo, the three countries are studying ways of restarting trilateral cooperation, said envoys at a conference in Delhi on Thursday. The cancellation of the MoU, worth about $500 million as well as the suspension of the Japanese-funded light rail transit (LRT) project by the previous Gotabaya Rajapaksa government, had led to a freeze in ties between Tokyo and Colombo. With India and Japan coming to Sri Lanka’s rescue during last year’s economic crisis, and offering assistance with Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring process, the Ranil Wickremesinghe government has also sought the return of infrastructure project plans as well as investment from both countries. This was the message sent during President Wickremesinghe’s visit to Delhi last month, and to Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi, who visited Delhi and Colombo last week.

“Some projects in Sri Lanka which were to be executed jointly by India and Japan did not progress due to several reasons, but that should not deter us in exploring new cooperation. India and Japan share a vision of a Free Open and Inclusive Indo-Pacific [FOIIP], which is of relevance to all countries in the region including Sri Lanka,” said India’s point person for the Indian Ocean Region, MEA Joint-Secretary Puneet Aggarwal, speaking at the conference on trilateral cooperation organised by three think tanks including India’s NatStrat and the Vivekananda India Foundation as well as Sri Lanka’s Pathfinder Foundation.

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