Embracing China

Sri Lanka’s growing ties with China have received a shot in the arm during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to that country. Economic and military ties have grown at a rapid pace in recent years.

China has become Colombo’s largest aid donor and is funding and constructing several massive infrastructure projects. During Rajapaksa’s visit, not only did the Chinese reaffirm commitment to infrastructure building and enhancing trade with Sri Lanka but also, they assured Rajapaksa of ‘fullest support in all necessary situations in international forums.’

This means that if the question of stern action against the Rajapaksa regime for alleged war crimes comes up before the UN Security Council or other international bodies, China will bat for Colombo. China’s support to Sri Lanka on the matter is not surprising given its opposition to outside interference in the internal affairs of a country. Besides, it has interests in Sri Lanka, which are likely to be furthered by backing Rajapaksa at a critical juncture.

India is concerned over the expanding co-operation between China and its southern neighbour. Analysts have warned that China’s involvement in the Hambantota port project will provide space some day for Chinese naval presence in Sri Lanka. Given its proximity to India, it will have serious security implications. While Sri Lanka has assuaged Indian anxieties on the matter, the evolving Sino-Lankan equation over support on the war crimes issue suggests that Colombo is being drawn into a relationship of dependence with Beijing.

India must avoid the temptation of following the Chinese or the west’s approach in shaping its policy towards Sri Lanka. The principles on which its policy is based are different from that of these countries. It is committed to a political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and must pursue that assiduously.

It is involved in post-war reconstruction in the northern areas and must do more to ensure that the houses it is constructing for displaced Tamils reach the intended beneficiaries. Adopting the agendas of the west or of China is not in its interest. Of course, seeing justice done in Sri Lanka is important. It must nudge the Rajapaksa regime quietly to put in place a credible process. Lecturing Rajapaksa through the media as the west does must not define our approach.

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