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March 30, 2020

IAF moves Su-30 squadron near SL border

National

March 30, 2020

The United States is working hard to stop China from expanding its influence in Asia by building an alliance similar to the Nato countries. The alliance of course includes India. At the same time, the US tries to counter what it claims is China’s debt trap diplomacy. Not too long ago, US Vice President Michael Pence directly referred to Sri Lanka in this regard. Using the country as an example of a country “which took on massive debt to let Chinese state companies build a port with questionable commercial value”, Pence added: “Two years ago, that country could no longer afford its payments – so Beijing pressured Sri Lanka to deliver the new port directly into Chinese hands. It may soon become a forward military base for China’s growing blue-water navy.” Pakistani authorities have rejected such inferences with regard to Gwadar as the actual figures of debt speak otherwise.

It is true the regional dynamics have been altered after China’s entry into the Indian Ocean region. This has happened through economic investments, political influence, and military presence of Beijing. China has deepened its ties with regional states, including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka through the Silk Road projects.

Sri Lanka is also a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a US$1 trillion global infrastructure-building initiative. China invested $1.2 billion on Sri Lanka’s Hambantota deep-sea port, which was leased to a Chinese company in 2018 as part of a US$584 million debt-for-equity swap.

Besides the United States, India is most concerned at the unfolding developments, especially at China’s acquisition of strategically-located deep water ports in Myanmar and Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives. The two countries believe these ports eventually serve a military purpose for the Chinese military and cut down their influence.

India has been especially highly disturbed as China has deployed naval forces in the western Indian Ocean and sells India’s neighbors large array of weapons including arms, tanks, frigates, missiles, and radars, which they require for their legitimate defence.

The Chinese naval presence is causing anxiety in New Delhi as it diminishes India’s effort to show its naval superiority over the smaller regional countries.

The recent deployment of six Su-30s at Thanjavur Tamil Nado, just 65 miles from international maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka, seems to be part of countering Chinese threat and increasing influence in the Indian Ocean region.

It should be noted that China has already been the largest supplier of arms to Sri Lanka in the past several decades, including small arms, ammunition, landmines, anti-aircraft guns, JY-11 3D air surveillance radar, armoured personnel carriers, naval vessels, and fighter aircraft. On the other hand, India has also done so and enjoys deep levels of naval cooperation with Sri Lanka.

But when two Chinese submarines and a warship docked at the Colombo port in 2014, India’s insecurity and anxieties deepened. Observers dismiss the Indian concerns saying that Chinese submarine deployments were not provocative in nature at all.

Meanwhile, India has clearly displayed its regional hegemonic ambitions as it tries to acquire strategic assets across the ocean and hopes to monitor and control movements in future. China is also concerned at the growing US presence in the region and Indo-US naval cooperation in the Indian Ocean.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa visited India on his first overseas trip just days after his election to power. After talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rajapaksa said, “I want to bring the relationship between India and Sri Lanka to a very high level. We have a longstanding relationship historically as well as politically.” But Indians are still fearful to what length the Sri Lankan government would help India over Chinese investments and influence. Sri Lanka in now a popular destination for Chinese tourists, with 260,000 Chinese tourists visiting the country in 2018.

“Looking at the situation from the Sri Lankan perspective, Colombo needs to tread carefully on how it manages its defense relations. Growing too close to China could create problems with India while leaning too much in favor of India could affect Chinese military sales to the country and other aspects of their bilateral relationship. For Colombo, it is therefore imperative to try and maximize its own gains while not antagonizing either of the large powers,” says Shantanu Roy-Chaudhury, who specializes in international relations of South Asia.

The Indian Ocean is very important due to the thousands of barrels of oil that pass through it on a daily basis and fires the world’s industries. It remains to be seen what the future geopolitical scenario in the region would be as there is an increasing Indo-Chinese competition in the Indian Ocean.