India's Modi emphasizes links with Sri Lanka to deepen ties

India's prime minister has emphasized common heritage with Sri Lanka as he's trying to woo the island neighbor that's become an important cog in China's plans for control of the Indian Ocean.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a speech in the Sri Lankan capital Friday marking the International Day of Vesak, the remembrance of Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death. Modi said that the friendship between India and Sri Lanka was "etched in time by the 'Great Master,'" a reference to the Buddha, whose religion spread from modern-day India to Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.

Modi also became the first Indian leader to visit Sri Lanka's tea plantation workers of Indian ancestry since their arrival nearly 200 years ago.

India's rival China also has been courting Sri Lanka with trade deals.