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China targeting Sri Lanka with maritime silk route

Brigadier Arun Bajpai (Retd)

11 February, 2018

Chinese President Xi Jinping was all in praise of Sri Lanka and China-Sri Lanka friendship in his recent message to the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, M Sirisena, this Sunday, on the occasion of Sri Lanka's 70th Independence Day.

Praising the current Sri Lankan strategic cooperative partnership with China, Jinping said that he wants to further improve this cooperation between the two countries. Chinese premier Li Keqiang was also very profuse in praising China-Sri Lanka strategic cooperation and friendship to his counterpart Ranil Wickremesinghe in his message of congratulation.

In Focus

The thrust of both these Chinese leaders' messages was that within the framework of the initiative of One Belt One Road (OBOR) and Maritime Silk Route (MSR), China wishes to consolidate its traditional friendship with Sri Lanka to strengthen mutual political trust, deepen practical cooperation and push the bilateral relationship to a new level.

It needs to be understood that flush with cash, China has invested 8 billion dollars in Sri Lanka till date which includes a number of projects including refurbishing Hambantota port on Sri Lanka's SE tip.

What is of importance is that since Sri Lanka was not in a position to pay back the 8 billion dollar loan taken from China with steep interest, it has agreed to hand over Hambantota port to China for operation on lease for 99 years.

China has also acquired the port of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. Both Hambantota and Djibouti ports shall enable China to firm up its presence in the Indian Ocean and strategically surround Indiawith a string of ports which China calls the string of pearls. Add Gwadar port of Pakistan, which China has constructed and now operating on it, and the picture is complete.

India has expressed its reservations over MSR as it has security and strategic implications for Indiain the Indian Ocean. It needs to be understood that MSR is an integral part of OBOR which was proposed by China in 2013. This initiative of OBOR aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa based on ancient trade and maritime trade routes enhancing global influence of China. However, Sri Lanka has found to its difficulty that unlike loans from other countries, loans from China come on difficult terms and China always drives hard bargains. Handing over of Hambantota port to China on lease for 99 years is case in point. In this context, despite China wanting Sri Lanka to negotiate with it Free Trade Agreement (FTA) at the earliest Sri Lanka is now saying that it is a small economy and does not want to hurry up the deal. Truth is that last year there were severe clashes between the Sri Lankan police and Sri Lankan trading population against the opening of Chinese Industrial Zone. It was the first time that opposition to Chinese investment in Sri Lanka had turned violent. Sri Lankan government is wary of the repeat of the same happening.

Currently, Nepal is sitting on Chinese lap, Tibet is a part of China, Pakistan is with China due to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in which China is spending 56 billion dollars. Pakistan is now almost a colony of China, Djibouti port in the Horn of Africa in the Indian Ocean is again under Chinese care, Hambantota port in Sri Lanka is with China, Bangladesh Army is equipped with Chinese weapons, and Myanmar is also under Chinese influence.

So, China has more or less succeeded in strategically surrounding India. Then what is the option for India? India cannot match Chinese purse strings besides India should not even try matching Chinese purse strings.

However, India must make its armed forces lean and mean, capable of acting at short notice. It should pack sufficient punch to deter any misdeed from China or Pakistan individually or together. Not like now where it has vast gaps in its defence preparedness.

India must also enhance its capability of providing services to other countries in which it already exists. Same goes for our infrastructure construction work where due to our babudom, we are always late in completing our projects. We must understand that we must pull up our socks before we are too late because we are already late


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