Lanka is no stage for India-China rivalry

Amid New Delhi’s concerns over growing military ties between Beijing and Colombo, Sri Lanka’s envoy Prasad Kariyawasam has said there is no zero-sum game between India and China. He said his country will not be reduced to a stage for the two rising Asian powers to play out their “rivalry”.

“We are not in the habit of looking at our relations with India and China as a zero-sum game,” the envoy told IANS in an interview.

“We will not allow our land or sea to be used for any inimical purpose by one country against the other,” the envoy said.

Kariyawasam was responding to a question on the recent visit of Chinese Defence Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie to India, which saw the two sides declaring their resolve to enhance defence cooperation in different areas, including non-traditional security.

The visit was preceded by a slew of announcements that included China pledging $100 million for the construction of facilities in Sri Lanka army camps to be set up in the the north and east, and around $600 million for phase II of the Hambantota port project, envisaged as an international hub to consolidate Sri Lanka’s status as a container trans-shipment centre in South Asia.

The envoy rejected concerns raised by sections of the strategic community in India about Colombo’s growing military and economic ties with Beijing, especially after the end of the war with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Security analysts were concerned that the heightened China-Sri Lanka cooperation in military and commercial matters could be detrimental to New Delhi’s interests in the island nation.

“Why should there be rivalry? We want to use the best commercial opportunities that emanate from the growing economies of both India and China,” the envoy said.

In anticipation of India’s concerns, Gen Liang had clarified during his visit to Sri Lanka that China’s military ties with the island nation were not targeted at any third country.

The envoy underlined that Sri Lanka was just trying to leverage new opportunities thrown up by the rise of India and China and wanted to retain its historic role as a hub of trade in the Indian Ocean region.

“Sri Lanka wants to be a hub of trade in the Indian Ocean, like we always have been in history. The first country to benefit from this approach will be India,” he said.

“India and China are today the most powerful and leading countries in Asia. They have managed their relationship without much difficulty.

“Our expectation is that these powers will have the capacity to manage their relations in such a way that the Indian Ocean will remain a zone of peace, a region of peace. That’s how Sri Lanka views the Indian Ocean and our relations with our close friend and neighbour India and our friend China.”

Underscoring the special relationship between India and Sri Lanka that is rooted in history and culture, the envoy said that the fates of the two neighbours were linked.

“If India is in trouble, we will be in trouble. If Sri Lanka is in trouble, India will be in trouble,” he said, plainly.

The envoy’s assurances, however, will not calm apprehensive analysts in India.
Chinese military participation in the Sri Lanka joint services exercise “Cormorant III,” which started Sep 10 and will go on till Sep 25 in Eastern Vakarai in the Eastern Province has only added to the concerns.

Troops from China, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Maldives are participating in “Cormorant III,”. While Indian troops are not participating, it is an exercise Indian observers will keenly watch. (IANS)