“New President in Sri Lanka Puts China’s Plans in Check”
The New York Times, January 10, 2015, p.A4
“On a Sunday four months ago, a vessel pulled unannounced into Sri Lanka’s Colombo harbor: the Chinese Navy submarine Great Wall No. 329, which is designed to carry torpedoes, a cruise missile and a 360-pound warhead. Sri Lanka’s defense minister shrugged it off as an ‘operational good-will visit.’ But anxiety was already radiating as far as New Delhi, where the visit was seen as a clear declaration that China had arrived in India’s backyard — with the blessing of Sri Lanka’s president at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Whatever China’s long-term plans were for strategically important Sri Lanka, they met with a sudden obstruction on Friday morning, when Mr. Rajapaksa was voted out of office in a startling upset. … Sri Lanka’s alliance with China built gradually, during the years when Western nations excoriated Mr. Rajapaksa over his human rights record and China soothed him with billions of dollars in loans for new ports and roads. The relationship seemed to intensify in recent months, prompting fears in neighboring India that, despite vigorous official denials, Mr. Rajapaksa was ready to break with tradition and allow Sri Lankan territory to be used for Chinese military activity. Chinese-funded infrastructure projects were among Mr. Rajapaksa’s central accomplishments. … Sri Lanka is a linchpin in one of Mr. Xi’s key foreign policy projects, a maritime trade route intended to connect China and Europe, known as the ‘Silk Road.’ The plan, backed by a $40 billion fund, is viewed nervously by India as an encircling strategy that could undermine its own dominance in the region and conceivably culminate in the construction of Chinese military facilities. … Typically, China responded to those political transitions by maintaining a low profile for several months, then approaching the new leadership with proposals for joint initiatives, he said. It almost always worked, even with opposition leaders who had harshly criticized China.”
Quickie Analysis: China is still in for the long game. Unless India can offer something better, China will again make inroads in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in the region.