Concern is growing in Indian security establishments over increasing Chinese footprints in Sri Lanka’s strategic sectors. The National Security Council Secretariat has called an inter-ministerial consultation next week to decide on “possible approaches” to protect “Indian interests” in its neighbourhood.
The latest to cause alarm are reports of Chinese-Sri Lankan collaboration in the area of space. A Sri Lankan firm is likely to launch its first communication satellite with Chinese help in 2015. In mid-2012, the National Security Adviser (NSA) had discussed this issue and the Department of Space was asked to “provide assessment of the security implications” on India due to Sri Lanka’s space programme.
Notably, a Sri Lankan company, Supreme SAT (Pvt.) Ltd. signed an agreement with the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka in May 2012 to launch the telecommunication satellite at a cost of $320 million in partnership with China Great Wall Industry Corporation, a state-owned Chinese company. Subsequently, it was also decided to set up a space academy-cum satellite ground station at Kandy.
The Indian authorities have been looking into possible options to counter any security threat. In its suggestions, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had said India should offer to build and launch satellites for Colombo.
“A mutually beneficial cooperation arrangement for building satellites and operating them with increased coverage areas over India can be worked out so that capabilities on satellites can be used by both the countries,” it had said.
Now, the inter-ministerial meeting under the leadership of Deputy NSA on March 25 would discuss the issue threadbare. Government sources said India was likely to initiate discussions with Sri Lankan authorities on bilateral cooperation in space-related activities, including building, launching and operating satellites. And if Sri Lanka refused to budge, India would request its neighbour to regulate footprints of satellite coverage within its land and maritime boundary to minimise Chinese interference, if any.
It is also learnt that India was likely to raise objections at an international level when the issues of orbital slot, frequency coordination and downlinking of foreign channels would come up to safeguard its national security and commercial interests, they noted.