In pursuit of National Security of Indian Ocean Region, India’s geopolitical interest ‘soft peddled’ by SL

February 10, 2021 at 12:18 PM

The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has begun to pacify India by giving various reasons for revoking the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Port of Colombo that was ready to be awarded to India but now they have further tainted the cordial ties by awarding three wind power energy project to China’s Sinosar-
Etechwin, citing that India’s bidder Sterling & Wilson, a power, solar company, lost the bid mainly in the technical evaluation, a qualification to enter the financial status in the bidding process.

India has raised serious concern over handing the project to China as it’s only some 24km to the southern tip of Tamil Nadu from the northern province of Sri Lanka.

The Chinese government also offered USD 1500mn alleged to be a currency swap. Earlier too, USD 500 mn was offered and China said use it for ‘whatever purpose’.

No country offers such loans without
conditions explained.

The GoSL after revoking the ECT Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) with India and Japan said that the ECT was never earmarked for international investors. Then they said ‘selling’ of national assets is not in their agenda and that the West Container Terminal (WCT) , India can take it for 85% stake for a 35-year lease agreement.

The logic is unclear. Firstly, the WCT is also a national asset of Sri Lanka. Secondly the ECT was not earmarked for international investors have not been a subject discussed when the high level of talks was held. Thirdly, if ECT that has 51% stake for Sri Lanka, will the demonstrators have the will to award WCT
for 85% stake to India and what’s the guarantee the port trade unions would not protest against this particular terminal deal. Fourth, the proposal of the WCT is not yet known.

The Sri Lanka Ports Authority Chairman had told a local media that if India does not take it, there are other parties who will vie for it and the GoSL will quickly resume the work at the ECT as they have wasted time already.

India and Sri Lanka, both lauding each other had been walking on a tight geopolitical rope having to balance the Indo-Pacific region and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of the Chinese.

India with its ‘neighbourhood first policy’ encamped to be there for Sri Lanka for all seasons, more than China does.

This was the need of the hour, as under China’s BRI, they were offered the CICT, the Port City project, the Hambantota Port and many other development projects for long term leasing that was susceptible to create Chinese colonies in Sri Lanka – a mere threat to the Indian Ocean Regions.

On the other hand, the United States of America and India have jointly decided to militarily weakening the Chinese and to block the BRI where the dragon’s footing has captured many of the financially weak countries like Sri Lanka using the BRI as the yardstick but China has only succeeded by acquiring more land and  setting up a business that does not bring revenues. China is merely camping at the southern port.

A local the newspaper also revealed that Sri Lankan President is revisiting the Hambantota Port as there are no international business or investors showing up as expected.

Business at the Hambantota port is poor because it’s a fortress under China’s surveillance and also trapped geopolitically. It is speculated that Quad members – the US, Canada, Japan and or India will not sight the place where the dragon treads.

What is seen lately is that a Chinese investor building a USD 300 mn tyre plant at the Hambantota port. The similar outlook is seen at the Port City where only a Chinese/Lanka joint venture has been proposed.

Sri Lanka and India’s relationship has been natural and geographically, culturally, traditionally interconnected hence, the government of India has been engaging with Sri Lanka based on these mutual interest which at times angered the island people when they supported the Tamils and favoured the liberation movement. However, India came in big way to erase its past and jointly annihilated the Tamil Tigers on behest of GoSL and in the post-war scenario India helped built 50, 000 houses in the north and the construct a new railway line and renewed it ties. It also donated a high tech hospital for the plantation workers.

Indian Prime Minister Modi on his “Neighbourhood First” policy gave priority to Sri Lanka’s issues but the Chinese factor has been a trajectory all the time.

The Chinese at the CICT is said to have backed the port trade unions’ protest on ECT as they also feared that India run ECT would be a hindrance altogether.

Awarding the Mattala International airport to India could have also be downplayed by the Chinese as their port is in the close proximity of the airport. An Indian expert team came thrice to inspect the possibility of running the lone airport but it was denied at the end.

(RRM Lilani,Freelance journalist and researcher based in Colombo. Writer can be reached on )