Increased Chinese Presence in Srilanka Bodes Ill for India

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The warning comes after a report purportedly doing the rounds that a handful of Chinese nationals had surreptitiously sneaked into India via sea route with the assistance of cadres belonging to a Sri Lanka-based political party

Syed Ali Mujtaba | Clarion India

Tamil Nadu has flagged serious security concerns over the increased Chinese presence in Sri Lanka. Sounding an alert over the Chinese activities in the neighbouring country, the state’s intelligence agency has called for intensified vigil along the coastline terming it a matter of security concern.
The warning comes after a report purportedly doing the rounds that a handful of Chinese nationals had surreptitiously sneaked into India via sea route with the assistance of cadres belonging to a Sri Lanka-based political party. This has prompted the Tamil Nadu government to issue an alert to all coastal districts to activate their intelligence and intensify security along the coastline.

According to intelligence sources, there is an increased presence of Chinese nationals in Sri Lanka. Added to this, frequent visits of the Chinese Ambassador to the islands close to the International Maritime Boundary Line, and a drone survey conducted in the area in the guise of assessing prospects of harvesting sea cucumber, have made matters worse calling for urgent attention, hence the alert by Tamil Nadu intelligence agency.

The free movement of Chinese nationals in many parts of northern Sri Lanka has triggered discontentment among the country’s local fishermen with whom Tamil Nadu fishermen have close contacts.  The Sri Lankan fishermen have complained that the Chinese are exploiting their rich sea wealth by venturing into sea cucumber farming at the expense of fisheries which is their only source of livelihood.

According to Sri Lanka Fisheries Ministry’s 2021 progress report, around 5,000 acres of coastal land with high potential for sea cucumber farming have been identified in the shallow sea areas of Mannar, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, and Kalpitiya. The vast area marked for sea cucumber farming has deprived local fishermen of their fishing activities. There is a protest going on against what they called as a sinister design of the Chinese. It is said that the Chinese would export the sea cucumber farmed in Sri Lanka for their consumption in China.

It is for some time the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka, where Tamils live, is seeing influenced by the Chinese, which are making houses for the displaced Tamils. India is also doing the same activity, but the Chinese are completing the projects fast.  India’s investment in the island nation is sizeable and is unmatched by the Chinese investment. The fear is that the increased presence of the Chinese in the areas where India traditionally enjoys local support may lead to a division among the people and curtail Indian influence.
Here, it needs to be remembered that India is providing scholarships to Sri Lankan students pursuing undergraduate programmes in India while China is funding postgraduate Sri Lankan students studying in their country. In this way, the Chinese are trying to woo the youth in Sri Lanka to support their future expansionist plans in the strategically located island nation.

The politics around controlling the ports intensified after China made inroads into Sri Lanka. There are six ports in Sri Lanka, Colombo Port, Galle Port, Trincomalee Port, Hambantota International Port, Kankesanthurai Port, and Oluvil Port. The Colombo Port and the Hambantota Port are almost under the control of China.  The other ports are susceptible to Chinese control due to their massive involvement in different sectors of China. The control of ports in Sri Lanka is important to monitor the Indian Ocean regions.

India still has not found answers to these developments in Sri Lanka. The country’s coastal security is shoddy. Almost 50% vacancies of the sanctioned strength of 800 personnel in the Tamil Nadu Coastal Security Group are lying vacant. The group has to man 42 Marine Police Stations, and check-posts in the territorial waters, but has limited manpower.

The funds for infrastructural support for coastal security totally stopped after the completion of Phase II of Coastal Security in 2020.  The security agencies in Tamil Nadu have appealed to the Union government to activate the Phase-III funding of the Coastal Security Scheme on an urgent basis.

The other demand from Tamil Nadu is that the Centre should help the state government raise a few Maritime Reserve Battalions to be stationed at vantage points along the coastline considering the increasing threat perceptions.
In this context, the Tamil Nadu government has allotted 240 acres of land near Rameswaram for establishing the Regional Maritime Coastal Security Training Academy, but the Government of India is yet to approve this project.

What can be concluded from this is that even as China is increasing its presence in Sri Lanka, India is unable to counter it. Needless to say those Chinese activities in the end will be a huge security concern for India. The developments in Sri Lanka should have prompted India to increase its coastal security. The augmentation of coastal security is needed because most of India’s strategic assets are located on its eastern coast.

Lastly, everyone is talking about the growing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean region; however, no one is talking about the formation of the third QUAD to secure the waters of this region. It’s high time India raised alarm bells and prevailed upon the members of the Pacific Quad and the West Asia Quad to form a third Quad exclusively for patrolling the Indian Ocean region.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba2007@gmail.com.

Watch the author on youtube –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpG8uep_vTg

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