Return Of The King
With Sri Lanka facing a Constitutional Crisis, a Cold War has rocked the Indian Ocean coast. India and China are the two parties in this war that is aimed at increasing (their) influence in the tiny Island nation. According to diplomatic sources, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s move to fire Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and to replace him with former President Mahinda Rajapakse (on October 26) has created an opportunity for China to influence the Sri Lankan politics (once again)! And, it will certainly hurt India’s interest. India, realising that the ongoing political crisis hands advantage to China, scrambles to claw back ground in the Emerald Island of Asia. With this, the tear-shaped island – located off the southern tip of India – has become an arena of tussle between New Delhi and Beijing, which had built ports, power stations and highways as part of its One Belt and One Road (OBOR) Initiative of trade and transport links across Asia.
The top political leadership in Beijing considers Rajapakse as a friend. During his tenure as the president from 2005 to 2015, Rajapakse had borrowed a huge amount of money from the Asian giant for implementing various infrastructure development projects. Diplomats believe that the seasoned Lankan politician, who has managed to make a comeback in domestic politics, will reward China this time. And Beijing is eagerly waiting for using this opportunity properly in an attempt to counter India’s influence in its own backyard.
Wickremesinghe, the ousted PM, was a completely different person. His foreign policies didn’t allow Beijing to dictate terms to Colombo. In fact, Wickremesinghe tried his best to boost diplomatic and trade ties with India and Japan. He has brought Sri Lanka, India and Japan closer in the last three years. It’s quite obvious that Rajapakse would not follow Wickremesinghe’s policies.
Speaking at a press conference in the Indian capital a couple of days ago, Director (Asia) of Eurasia Group (a political risk firm) Shailesh Kumar said: “China is once again emerging as Colombo’s last hope. This transition will ensure that China can once again prevail over Sri Lanka’s economy as they have a friend in the Prime Minister’s Office – in contrast to Wickremesinghe.”
Kumar further said that the return of Rajapakse, whose previous regime was dominated by the suppression of free speech and harassment of critics, would not only push Sri Lanka closer to China, but could also destabilise the country. The sudden change of guard in Colombo has already triggered violence and economists warn that it could pose dire consequences for Sri Lanka’s democratic future, credit rating and financial markets.
Very recently, Abdulla Yameen – another close friend of Beijing – faced defeat in elections in the Maldives. The newly-formed government in Malé is trying hard to free the Island nation from the Chinese influence. As expected, Beijing is not at all happy with the political developments in the Maldives. In such a situation, the developments in Sri Lanka give China some extra breathing room in South Asia.
Harinda Vidanage, the Director of the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (a Colombo-based think tank), said that Sri Lanka has become a greater strategic prize after the pro-China President of the Maldives, Abdulla Yameen, lost the election. “For China, both Sri Lanka and the Maldives were very important in their effort to gain a foothold in the Indian Ocean. China, to certain extent, lost the Maldivian connection when Yameen lost the elections,” stressed Vidanage.
Meanwhile, India is not ready to sit idle. New Delhi has announced that it is closely monitoring the political developments in Sri Lanka. The Western nations, too, are monitoring the situation. The US and the EU have urged the Island nation to resolve the Constitutional Crisis as soon as possible and to restore peace.
Indian PM & the Chinese President
UN Chief Antonio Guterres has expressed great concern over the deepening political crisis in Sri Lanka and called on the Lankan government to respect democratic values and constitutional provisions and process. In a statement, the UN chief said that it would be important for the Lankan government to “uphold the Rule of Law and ensure the safety and security of all Sri Lankans“.
It is still not clear whether it will be possible for President Sirisena to resolve the crisis soon.
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