COLOMBO • India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday made an unscheduled stop at a Catholic church bombed during the Easter suicide attacks, ahead of his official welcome to Sri Lanka.
His entourage made a detour to St Anthony's Shrine on its way to Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena's office, where a red carpet military parade awaited.
"I am confident Sri Lanka will rise again," Mr Modi said on Twitter, posting photos of himself at the church. "Cowardly acts of terror cannot defeat the spirit of Sri Lanka. India stands in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka."
He is stopping in Colombo on his return home after an official visit to neighbouring Maldives, where he inaugurated a coastal radar system and military training centre.
His brief but politically significant visit to the two neighbours comes as New Delhi seeks to fend off Chinese influence in the strategic nations.
The Maldives, an archipelago of more than 1,000 tiny coral islands south of the Indian subcontinent, straddles the world's busiest east-west maritime route. Sri Lanka is located at a halfway point on the same sea route.
India, the traditional ally of Sri Lanka and the Maldives, had watched with unease as former governments of strongman leader Abdulla Yameen of the Maldives and Sri Lanka's Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa leaned towards Beijing for political and financial support.
Mr Yameen's election loss last September, however, has seen the new administration under President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih swing back towards New Delhi.
Colombo too has moved back to New Delhi after the defeat of Mr Rajapaksa in January 2015.
Last month, Colombo announced that it was entering into a partnership with India and Japan to develop a deep-sea container terminal next to a controversial US$500 million (S$681 million) Chinese-run facility in the capital.
The three countries have signed a memorandum of cooperation to develop what is known as the East Terminal of Colombo port.
China owns 85 per cent of the adjoining Colombo International Container Terminal. The state-owned Sri Lanka Ports Authority owns the remaining 15 per cent.
More than two-thirds of transshipment containers handled by Colombo originated from or were destined for India.
Sri Lanka, unable to repay a huge Chinese loan, handed over another deep-sea port in the south of the island to a Beijing company in December 2017 in a deal that raised concerns at home and abroad.