The Sunday Leader

Shadows Of Asian Giants Over Sri Lanka

China two weeks ago officially became the world’s second biggest economy, overtaking Japan. India last week announced an 8.8 percent economic growth in the last three months and is expected to reach 9 percent by the end of the year. Indian economic growth could touch 10 per cent in the next couple of years and may even beat China in the next four years, Dr. Kaushik  Basu Chief Economic Advisor of the Indian Finance Ministry was quoted in The Hindu, last week.
These spurts in economic growth have made the once poverty stricken Asian giants to be considered the two leading economic superpowers of the 21st Century — if not in military terms — influencing and dominating countries near and far reminiscent of the Western colonial empires such as Britain, France and Germany did in the 18th  and 19th Centuries.

Interest in Lanka

Sri Lanka is next door to India and although Indo-Lanka relations have ranged from migration to conquests since time immemorial, the 21st Century Indian pressure comes in a new form. The latest is that India is to engage itself in a massive housing scheme in the north and east and would bring in 25,000 Indian construction workers. In tandem is the request already granted for the establishment of an Indian consulate in Jaffna and also way down in Hambantota where there is no known Indian presence. There is an Indian Consulate in Kandy, justifiably established  in the 1970s, to look after the interests of Tamils of Indian origin although now most of them have been granted full Sri Lankan citizenship.
China too has brought in a large number of construction workers for their projects in  Hambantota, the harbour and airport. There are other Chinese built projects such as power generation plants where Chinese workers are present in comparatively small numbers.

Indian  James Bond here?

Indian pressure for a consulate in the deep South is being interpreted both here and abroad as being motivated to keep a watchful eye on the Chinese there. Consulates officially are for purposes of looking after the interests of their residents in the region such as the issue and extension of visas but it is well known that they are also put to other uses such as  of the derring-do kind which James Bonds are known for.
Chinese presence in any part of the country is not of much concern to Lanka,  because China has so far not evinced any signs of being interested in the internal politics of Sri Lanka whereas Indians make no bones about their interests in the Tamil community and their relations with the 60 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu. Our political leaders too pay regular obeisance in the New Delhi Foreign Ministry and the latest has been the visit of President’s brother Basil Rajapaksa who is considered the chief negotiator with New Delhi along with the President’s Secretary  Lalith Weeratunga while the Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe too has been reported to be on ‘an official visit’ to India. The charming Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao was here last week for annual Indo-Sri Lanka talks but charming as she was watched by hawk eyed observers for any Indian rope tricks.

Chinese workers

Chinese workers were here in the 1970s for the construction of the BMICH and posed no problems. Besides they are easily distinguishable from Sri Lankans unlike the Indians, many of whom are carbon copies of us.

CEPA bogey

A matter of grave concern has been the proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between India and Sri Lanka, the signing of which has been  put off by President Mahinda Rajapaksa following protests of a section of Sri Lankan businessmen. It is argued that the ground realities are not conducive for signing of the agreement and that ‘strong possibilities exist of Indian dominance of our homegrown industry and the invasion of Indian labour without restraint’. The pressure build up by India for signing the agreement, it is claimed, points out to a compulsory economic partnership agreement, it is claimed.
While some claim that the ten-year-old Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (ISLFTA) has been beneficial to both countries, those opposing it claim that it has been a failure. It was never a free trade agreement but an agreement on concessionary duties imposed by India, it is argued. Opponents further claim that ‘arbitrary clauses are added as and when India deems fit to do so and protect its industries. Hidden barriers and customs delays and several obstacles have discouraged exports to India.  In the absence of a dispute agreement Sri Lanka is powerless and our toothless bureaucrats are incapable and frightened to oppose,’ it is claimed.
Prof. A. V. de S. Indraratne, a highly respected economist who has taught most of the country’s economists, too contests the claims made by those supporting the ISLFTA. He  agrees that the ISLFTA is not a free trade agreement but one of preferential trade. Signing the CEPA without permanently removing what has been secured in the ISLFTA would get Sri Lanka into deep waters, he has said. He welcomes multilateral free trade and free investments for all unlike CEPA which gives India the opportunity to ‘cherry pick’ trade and investments.

Asian shadows

Sri Lanka is experiencing the first shadows of the contests between the rising two Asian behemoths. The two countries despite their ‘strategic mistrust’ that has lasted for 50 years have not let that come in between trade which now stands at around US $ 60 billion. ‘India and China are not in competition, there is enough economic space for us both,’ Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said recently and China’s  President Hu Jintao has said the same. But the ‘strategic mistrust’ of 50 years since the Indo-China war of 1962 still rankles, particularly over the Indo-China borders.
Last week China refused a visa to Lt. General B.S. Jaswal, Chief of the Northern Command of the Indian Army for a visit to attend a top conference of Indian and Chinese officials on bi-lateral issues related to the global financial situation. The reason apparently was that the Indian General was in command of disputed border regions between China and India. Yet, the Beijing conference had gone ahead, it was reported.
Recent reports also said that Indian government was seriously considering placing ‘nuclear capable’ ballistic missiles on the Indo-China border in response to alleged serious threats from China. It was reported that the Peoples’ Liberation Army had established a  base in Gilgit Balistant  region in Pakistan controlled Kashmir and China had amassed thousands of troops in Pakistan controlled Kashmir.
These are reports from  the frozen heights of the Himalayas which both countries find difficult to verify but  such reports do indicate that tension between the two Asian giants despite the Himalayan heights their economies have reached.

Indian Ocean games

Sri Lanka has been caught up in China’s thrust into the Indian Ocean, particularly the region which India considers its backyard. China came in to build the Hambantota harbour after it was offered to India by the Sri Lankan government and rejected. Probably India would have wanted to invest on one of its own harbours on the South Indian coasts. But Hambantota being so close to the main international sea route between West and East Asia is obviously causing India much worry even though Sri Lanka has given virtually a free run of Trincomalee by leasing out the Oil Tank Farm there to India. Hambantota is quite unlikely to be a Chinese base but China would most probably want it to refuel their Indian Ocean submarines.
All this is a part of the new strategic game played in the Indian Ocean by the two new Asian powers. China seeks close relationships with South Asian countries which India objects to. Indira Gandhi herself having warned all nations to keep off the Indian backyard. A recent issue of  The Economist quotes Brajesh Mishra, a former Indian national security advisor: Its (China’s) main agenda is to keep India preoccupied with events in South Asia so it is constrained from playing a more important role in Asian and global affairs’.
But with or without China, India does embroil herself with her South Asian neighbours. Recent history indicates disputes with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

1 Comment for “Shadows Of Asian Giants Over Sri Lanka”

  1. yaksha deva

    We look like Indians and are regarded as Indians when We are out. What I like dislike the most about this is their negative traits, such as overt submissive nature. willingly manifesting and accepting a second class status.
    Indians hail from a society of economic in equalities that is a result of caste system and primitive religions.
    India regard us as Yakkas, they have 2nd century yard sticks . They will make
    money, yet they are slow to mature. Srilankans should be watchful about Indians more than anybody. They are masters at doing under hand deals. When IPKF was in Srilanka, they had enaged in peti thefts, robbing wrist watches cameras, to household appliances.
    Indian army guys have drunk sun silk shampoo thinking they were drinking some egg derivative, definitely had soiled their already dirty pants.

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