India’s fear of encirclement groundless says Chinese daily, as Ranil arrives for talks

Sri Lankans spend their evening on the Galle Face green as the China Port City project is seen behind in Colombo in this March 15, 2016 photo. 'Global Times' daily has pointed out that apart from Sri Lanka’s partisan politics, “pressure from India has also been playing a crucial role in suspending the project.”  

India’s ties with Colombo are casting a shadow on the visit of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe who arrived in the Chinese capital on Wednesday to reboot a longstanding relationship with Beijing.

Within hours of Mr. Wickremasinghe’s arrival, the state-run Global Times newspaper ran an op-ed that focused on India as a factor in Beijing-Colombo ties. Analysts say that the 1.4-billion dollar Port City Project in Colombo, which has been cleared by the Sri Lankan government, but where protests are being staged, has become a litmus test of Colombo’s ability to balance ties between its two Asian powerhouses: China and India.

Beijing-funded project in Colombo

The Op-ed began by squarely addressing concerns regarding the mega-project that has been undertaken by the CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt.) Ltd -- a subsidiary of Hong Kong listed China Communications Construction Company. “One of the big questions of his [Mr. Wickremasinghe’s] tour is whether the two sides will nail the divergences down over the Beijing-funded $1.4 billion port city project in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo,” observed the write-up.

It added: “Ever since the country’s new government was formed in January last year, Sino-Sri Lankan relationship has experienced some fluctuations, which have been reflected in the suspension of the port project. After a year-long pause, the project got the green light shortly before Wickremasinghe’s visit. But the major part of the construction has not been resumed yet.”

‘Pressure from India’

The daily pointed out that apart from Sri Lanka’s partisan politics, “pressure from India has also been playing a crucial role in suspending the project.”

“New Delhi is often biased when viewing Chinese investment in South Asia. New Delhi’s anxiety stems from its suspicion that China is making an attempt to contain India. Despite the fact that neither Beijing’s investment to Sri Lanka, nor the latter’s economic development will do any harm to India, New Delhi is still obsessed with the idea that China might create a military encirclement around India.”

Defends docking of Chinese U-boat

The article defended the docking of a Chinese submarine in Lanka waters in 2014, which led Sri Lanka’s new Cabinet to claim that similar incidents would not happen again, following protests from India.

“However, it is a common international practice for warships to dock at other countries’ port for goodwill visit, refueling and maintenance. Besides, China’s anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden need support from Indian Ocean nations. Therefore, there may also be discussions over the matter between the two sides this week,” the daily observed.

Lanka ties for Maritime Silk Road’

The article explained that ties with Sri Lanka were central to establish the China-led 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, given Pakistan’s vulnerabilities on account of its current security situation. “Currently, the China-funded constructions in Pakistan cannot serve as a strong foothold for China, given the calamitous state of Pakistan’s security. Sri Lanka can be of great importance for China in the security strategic layout in Indian Ocean. It will not only provide security assurances for nearby navigation channels, but will also promote the 21st Maritime Silk Road.”

China has identified development of string of ports in the Indian Ocean including Kyaukphyu in Myanmar, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Gwadar in Pakistan, along with a military logistics base in Djibouti, as the hub to safeguard its merchant ships in the piracy-hit waters close to the Gulf of Aden.

‘No zero-sum game for Sri Lanka’

The daily noted that Sri Lanka was not pursuing a zero-sum game as it wished to engage with “all the major powers.”

“The argument within the country over being pro-India or pro-China might gradually calm down along with Wickremasinghe’s China tour. New Delhi does have huge influence on Colombo, yet the relationship between Sri Lanka and China has not infringed on India’s interests. Colombo is now well aware that neither pro-India nor pro-China is the appropriate policy, and the best option is to keep a good relationship with all major powers.”

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 6:13:40 AM |

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