PM Modi held delegation-level talks with his Sri Lanka counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is currently on a five-day visit to India, in Delhi on Saturday.
In a joint statement, PM Narendra Modi said that terrorism is a major threat in our region and both Sri Lanka and India have fought this problem firmly.”There were painful and barbaric terrorist attacks on Easter Day in Sri Lanka in April last year. These attacks were not only a blow to Sri Lanka, but also to humanity as a whole,” PM Modi said in a joint statement.
PM Modi also said that in today’s conversation he and his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa discussed ‘Joint Economic Projects’ in Sri Lanka, and also on enhancing mutual economic, trade, and investment relations.
Reading Between the Lines
Indian government understands as well, Sri Lanka, given the grave crisis it is in, needs a moratorium on all loan repayments for three years, given the doldrums the economy is in. “If the Indian government takes this step, then other governments might agree to do the same thing, including China. The previous government took so many loans, they beggared the economy, and it is a mess. It all depends on the stand India takes” is how the statements go like.
Chinese Smart Plan
While China’s economy is going on a downward spiral, it is increasingly reducing its loan pledge, while now using the loans only for its own Infrastructure projects, in that country. This is the methodology and model that it has been followed with most of the countries, with
its debt-trap diplomacy and seizing of resources, and Sri Lanka is very much in thick of this design.
Sri Lanka finds itself, not getting any response from China in terms of provision of monetary resources, jobs, infrastructure as well as returns from Chinese projects. It draws a blank there.
Chinese Ambassador Cheng had said “loans from China are mostly used on ports, roads, and water conservancy projects that matter to people’s livelihood, meeting the desperate need of Sri Lanka’s socio-economic development. The cooperation projects and loans from China have largely helped improve the infrastructure construction, thus promoting the economic progress, improving livelihood and providing more power for Sri Lanka’s future development”.
However, he deceivingly does not mentions the Cost Involved : thrice what indigenously Sri Lankans/Japan/India could have made it in. Except only China provides the Rogue Loans, in return for exorbitant loan conditions i.e. interests. Chinese get employment in a foreign lands for its idle and stressed industry, as well as movement of its dead stock of materials.
Hence conditions of loans and dead infrastructure is such, that even handing over Hambantota port isn’t enough. There is no revenue there, and there won’t be any, even after three years. Sri Lanka knows that.
If India agrees to postpone debt by three years, we can convince others too: Mahinda Rajapaksa- to Pay Chinese?
Going by the look of it, though it appears Development cooperation is likely to be high on the agenda, while it is unlikely New Delhi might announce any new assistance or such requests. Especially Mr. Doval, in his meeting with President Rajapaksa in Colombo last month, reportedly discussed very openly, countering “debt traps”, a term often used while referring to large scale Chinese rogue loans. Rajapaksa, who also has the Finance, Economic and Policy Development portfolios, has the task of overseeing the repayment of Sri Lanka’s mounting external debt totaling billions of dollars.
Hence what it needs at present, and in urgency, is an Indian stamp on extending deadline. While how it reaffirms the same will not be filling the empty pockets of Xi Jinping.
Following Mr. Jaishankar’s Colombo visit in November, the MEA said New Delhi “expects” Colombo to take forward post-war reconciliation. Mr. Modi, during President Rajapaksa’s visit, expressed confidence that Sri Lanka would carry forward the process of reconciliation, “to fulfill the aspirations of the Tamil for equality, justice, peace and respect.”
The Sri Lankan President has emphasized the need for development overpower devolution in the war-hit areas and expressed reservations over devolving land and police powers to the provinces envisaged in the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, an outcome of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Rajapaksa told Tamil media heads in Colombo last month that there was “no change” in his position to implement “13 Plus”, implying he would implement the existing amendment in full and go beyond, an assurance he had given India in the past.
This imply Rajapaksa is willing to heed India’s request
China to revert back its control of Hambantota port to Sri Lanka
Indian masterstroke has been very subtle and engaging, given that China has its back against the wall. India asks Sri Lanka to follow the Myanmar model, of renegotiating all its deals with China, during Jaishankar’s visit to Srl Lanka last year.
Foremost was the essential, non-negotiable requirement of getting the Hambantota port out of Chinese clutches. This was conveyed in a firm manner, which has now resulted in Rajapaksa visit here, now.
While Rajapaksa expresses inability to do that, Sri Lanka does not say an overt yes or no, however is willing to renegotiate the terms for the same.
Security in the Region
With Maldives as precedence, finally in India’s sphere of understanding, and to remain so given the emphatic strategic reinforcement to the region, and the engagements between two countries, more intelligence sharing with Sri Lanka now is the beginning of the understanding. Increase the technical assistance on military equipment, as well as training is the buzz. Like the Easter bombings, for which Sri Lanka have an ongoing investigation into the conspiracy, and a commission is looking into it, they know that India will continue to help on that. In addition, there is news to restart the project for trilateral terror and security cooperation between Maldives-India-Sri Lanka. It is being discussed on how to take the trilateral idea forward.
India, the neighboring regional power, had all the reasons to be worried because the Rajapaksas are seen as being pugnaciously sympathetic to China, in the past. However, the new president has made repeated statements that his government would like Sri Lanka to be a “neutral country” and that “Sri Lanka won’t do anything that will harm India’s interests.” Since Jaishankar’s visit to Sri Lanka last year, Gotabaya was also critical of the previous government giving Hambantota Port on a 99-year lease to China and said, “We have to renegotiate.” He went on to add that giving land as investment for developing a hotel or a commercial property was not a problem but “the strategically important, economically important harbor, giving that is not acceptable.”
While India, in all likelihood shall accede to Sri Lankan request of postponing the debt by three years and assist Sri Lanka to get back into the sphere of trustworthy nations, what India shall ensure, is that China’s reach in the region is and shall remain diminished. While the initiative is with India, given Chinese economy and thereby its grand design’s fallacies and dissolute agreements, which have gradually come to fore, India shall cajole all neighbors to get China to cleaners table. This shall ensure no security and strategically harming agreements are left hanging around.
Sri Lanka is unlikely to go Pakistan way. Sri Lanka is the very next one to follow Myanmar, to renegotiate, setting up a viable alternative for whole of South East Asia and Africa to follow suit. Dragon does have a leash, but how strong have to be the hands to wield it, is the suppose, for the world to see.
12 Feb 20/Wednesday Written By: Fayaz