COLOMBO: India and Sri Lanka have expressed their commitment to further strengthen the bilateral defence ties and jointly face the security challenges and concerns to ensure stability in the region.

The new Defence Adviser to the High Commission of India Captain (Indian Navy) Vikas Sood has had interactions with the leadership of Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence and armed forces in the past week, the Indian High Commission in Colombo said.

Captain Sood paid courtesy calls on Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Maj Gen. Kamal Gunaratne (Retd) on July 28, 2020, Acting Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Sri Lanka Army Lt Gen Shavendra Silva on July 27 and Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne on July 29.

During these interactions, a range of matters of mutual interest in bilateral defence cooperation was discussed. Strong commitment to further strengthen the defence relationship between the two countries was reiterated by participants on both sides.

The interactions were marked by traditional cordiality and camaraderie between the armed forces of the two countries.

"It was noted that India and Sri Lanka enjoy a strong and growing defence relationship pillared on extensive cooperation in capacity building, such as through training, and other close linkages. More than 50 per cent of all foreign military training slots in India are allocated to Sri Lankan defence personnel," the High Commission said.

"It was observed that commonality of security concerns and challenges as well as the mutual resolve to address them for ensuring peace and security in our shared region guide the bilateral defence ties," the statement said on Saturday.

Regular high-level exchanges and visits, joint training and exercises, ship visits and sports interactions are the key elements of this robust cooperation," it added.

Both sides expressed satisfaction over several high-level exchanges and interactions between the two countries in the field of defence this year, despite the travel restrictions in the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic.

"Besides several delegation-level visits, Maj Gen Kamal Gunaratne (Retd) along with Lt Gen Shavendra Silva, participated in Def Expo 2020 at Lucknow, India in February 2020," the statement said.

India expressed gratitude for the excellent cooperation by Sri Lanka Navy and Sri Lanka Ports Authority in the repatriation of Indian nationals from Sri Lanka in June 2020 when INS Jalashwa undertook a visit to the island nation.

"The smooth conduct of this operation is a testimony to extremely close ties between Indian and Sri Lankan Armed Forces," the statement said.

It was also noted that in line with the commitment of the leadership of the two countries to cooperate in facing COVID 19 challenges, India had extended essential medical assistance to Sri Lanka in recent months.

It was recalled that the Indian Navy had gifted two transportation pods for transferring COVID-19 patients and four thermal scanners to Sri Lanka Navy.

"In the context of sharing Sri Lanka’s valuable experience in effectively fighting COVID, the recent participation of Maj Gen HJS Gunawardena, Chief of Staff of Sri Lanka Army in a webinar organised by India for various partner countries including Bangladesh, Thailand and Myanmar to share best practices followed by Sri Lanka was appreciated," the statement said.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Major General (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne has said that historical relationship between China and Sri Lanka had been growing on the mutual trust built on pillars of political, economic, cultural, educational and most importantly in defence over the years.

Delivering the keynote address as the Chief Guest at the inaugural ceremony of the Chinese National Defence University (NDU) Alumni Association of Sri Lanka held recently, he said, China has been a historical ally of Sri Lanka across a multitude of avenues including Buddhism, trade, infrastructure development and global connectivity, Colombo Page reported.

“Sri Lankans will never forget the great cooperation extended by China during our hard times which we had to undergo during the recent past domestically and globally," the paper quoted Gunaratne as saying.

He also expressed his gratitude to China and the Chinese National Defence University for providing professional expertise in training the battle commanders in planning out counter strategies during the fight against the now-defunct LTTE.

China has been making significant forays into Sri Lanka, especially in the defence field. Beijing's activities have caused regional concerns, especially in India.

Sri Lankan in 2017 handed over the Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease.

There are regional concerns, mostly from India, that China may make a military presence at Hambantota, located on a key sea international shipping route.