Syed Ali Mujtaba | Clarion India
‘The world is witnessing the cold war 2.0, where China has emerged as a major challenger to the US supremacy,’ observed Col R. Hariharan, and retired Military Intelligence Officer who was with Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) from 1997 – 1990 in Sri Lanka.
Speaking at the Center for Peace and Economic prosperity in South Asia topic; “India- Sri Lanka – China triangle,” Col R. Hariharan said; ‘China wants to revive its old glory when it dominated the world but lost its numero uno position to the West due to the lack of naval capabilities.’
‘Now China is all set to acquire blue water navy status and can freely operate across the oceans and my like to dominate the Indian and Pacific oceans, catapulting to becoming a real superpower.’
The South Asian expert said all the coastal countries in the South Asian region are all under Chinese influence due to its loan policy and deep involvement in infrastructure development projects. This policy has led the coastal countries to become debt-ridden and due to nonpayment of the loan, they are vulnerable to becoming Chinese protectorates.
Talking about the Chinese threat to India emanating from Sri Lanka, Col Hariharan said, ‘Sri Lanka holds a very strategic position in the Indian Ocean region as it is close to the international sea lane that passes into the Indo -Pacific region.’
‘Sri Lanka plays a pivotal role for India to control the strategic choke points in the Indian Ocean region. If Sri Lanka falls into the Chinese sphere of influence, it can have easy access to the Indian and Pacific Ocean region that may have a huge impact on India’s security,’ Col Hariharan, said.
Talking about China’s involvement in Sri Lanka, the soldier scholar said the year 2004 was the beginning of the Beginning’s dalliance with the island nation. This was when India refused to give military aid to both, Sri Lankan government and the rebels, fighting the protected ethnic war. That’s when China supplied arms to the Sri Lankan government that turned the table in its favor and LTTE got defeated in 2009. After that China started making forays into Sri Lanka and a bohemian relationship developed between the two much to the disadvantage of India.
After that China has become the biggest investor in Sri Lanka. It has built expressways, ports, power projects many of such infrastructural needs that it got on lease for 99 years. This created a debt trap problem for Sri Lanka, which owes USD 1.3 billion to China. The growing debt problem of Sir Lank would certainly impact Indian security because would bring it under the Chinese sphere of influence.
Talking about the development of the Colombo port by China, Col Hariharan said, “The Chinese ambition is to control Colombo port to displace India. Colombo port is one of the busiest ports and 70 percent of India’s container shipment takes place from this port. India is heavily dependent on Colombo port for the transshipment of its international containers to India. China is developing three out of five container terminals of Colombo port and only one is being developed by India’s Adani group. Further, the Chinese development of the Colombo port city has huge security implications for India. This may change the dynamics of the India -Sri Lanka relationship, the IPKF veteran said.
Col Hariharan said China’s growing involvement in Sir Lanka will have its main impact felt on South India, particularly Tamil Nadu. India has to be on guard towards the growing influence of China over Sri Lanka because its Southern region is quite vulnerable at the sea. India has to strengthen its naval security in South India and augment its Southern ports to become less dependent on the Colombo port. Some efforts made in this direction include India – Sri Lanka and Maldives navy agreeing for joint patrolling of their SEZ but that’s not enough to protect the sea borders and more needs to be done because there are grim realities in India – Sri Lanka – China triangle.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at email@example.com