Quick move to woo Gotabaya

India's foreign minister arrived in Sri Lanka on Tuesday and announced that new President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had accepted Prime Minister Narendra Modi's invitation to visit New Delhi next week.

Mr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said he held talks with Mr Gotabaya in Colombo on his first full day in office after being sworn in on Monday.

"President @GotabayaR (Rajapaksa) has accepted PM @narendramodi's invitation to visit India on 29th November," Mr Jaishankar said on Twitter.

It is most likely to be Mr Gotabaya's first official visit abroad after winning by a landslide in last Saturday's polls.

The Indian minister said he conveyed Mr Modi's message "of a partnership for shared peace, progress, prosperity and security" to Mr Gotabaya in Colombo.

Mr Jaishankar became the first foreign dignitary to call on Mr Gotabaya, who on Monday vowed to steer a "neutral" course in international politics as analysts warned the new president's election could re-boot the country's controversial ties with China.

Mr Gotabaya is following in the footsteps of his older brother, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa who was sworn in as Sri Lanka's new prime minister yesterday, whose decade in power up to 2015 was known for the government's close ties to China and caused concern in New Delhi.

Mr Gotabaya said he would maintain "equidistant" relations with all countries and "remain neutral in the power struggles amongst nations".

Yet, as he takes over the reins of a country that is strategically located in the Indian Ocean and firmly wooed by China, there is some trepidation in India on whether Chinese influence will increase.

Indian analysts said the two sides would approach each other with caution given the history of turbulent relations between the Rajapaksa family and India.

Mr Mahinda had tilted towards China at the expense of ties with India during the end of his 10-year-long tenure which ended in 2015.

Mr Gotabaya was the defence secretary in charge of military affairs in that government and has in the past accused India of interfering in Sri Lanka's internal matters.

"I think it will be cautious but no upheavals are expected immediately," said South Asia expert Professor S.D. Muni, adding that ties would depend on how Mr Gotabaya approaches the minority Tamils, shapes ties with China and deals with allegations of human rights violations at the end of the civil war.

"It is very, very clear that he hasn't been voted in by Tamils. He knows it and has underlined it. How he treats them (is a factor). I think both sides will go cautiously and be careful not to tumble on these factors," said Prof Muni.



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