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India to transfer Dornier reconnaissance aircraft to Sri Lanka in a bid to improve ties with island nation

It’s not just Pakistan. China is reaching out to countries in South Asia and now, India is playing catch-up. High-level defence talks with Sri Lanka have got over and begins with Bangladesh very shortly.

As part of the effort of building closer defence ties with Sri Lanka, India is likely to transfer a Dornier reconnaissance aircraft. A military exercise between the two countries in Sri Lanka has just ended, the next one is likely to be more sophisticated. China has famously built the Hambantota port for the Lankans; it must be said, however, that the offer first came to India. And New Delhi took no decision. Now, the Sri Lankans, keeping in mind India’s protests after Chinese submarines docked in Lankan ports, have decided to not allow any “offensive” weapons systems.

Plans for joint, coordinated patrolling between India and Bangladesh are being worked out. While Dhaka has close ties with New Delhi and the victory of the Awami League in the parliamentary polls in December has been a boost, there is concern about China selling two submarines to the Bangladesh Navy and the possibility of China using a Bangladesh naval base under construction in Pekua. A bilateral naval exercise is also likely this year.

For both countries, there will be a “soft-power” reach out from India. A proposal to invite Sri Lankan defence personnel and their wives to Bodh Gaya and Lumbini and other parts of the Buddhist circuit is being considered, as are invitations to Bangladeshis to visit Kolkata and also, the Taj Mahal.

China has also sold two submarines to Thailand. Now, the Navy chief and Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, Admiral Sunil Lanba, is likely to visit Thailand for discussions with senior officials. There had been considerable discussions about Admiral Lanba’s visit to China, but that appears to have been shelved.

The Maldives too, particularly after the recent polls there, is another country India is reaching out to, and that too, very successfully. The Maldives gets a Dornier, to be used as an air ambulance.

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