President Mahinda Rajapaksa – China would be supportive of pursuing a narrow political agenda in Sri Lanka?

China catch me if you canBy Saman Indrajith

TNA yesterday in Parliament asked whether the government was distancing itself from India and closing ranks with China so as to shirk the responsibility for honouring its pledges to India.

TNA Parliamentary group leader R. Sampanthan participating in the committee stage debate under the expenditure heads of the Ministry of External Affairs said that the total assistance extended by China to Sri Lanka during the period 1971 to 2012, around 41 years, was USD 5,056 billion of which USD 4,761 billion, approximately 94 per cent, was extended between 2005 and 2012 during the tenure of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The funding promised by China in the period 2012 to 2014 is said to be around USD 2.18 billion, most of it as a loan. Grants accounted for only 2 percent of the total funding between 2005 and 2013; the rest was loans. “In contrast, I would like to look at Indian assistance to Sri Lanka. It is approximately USD 1.3 billion, one-third of that amount is by way of grants.”

“Is this a clear indication of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s insensitivity to the concerns of neighbouring India, recognised as the regional power in South Asia, or is it the pursuit of a deliberate, pre-determined programme to undermine Indian interests and thereby isolate India so as to free itself from obligations and commitments made to India not only in the interests of reconciliation peace and harmony within Sri Lanka but also in the region? No country has greater links with Sri Lanka politically, economically, socially and culturally than India. Are these actions intended to undermine all these links which have their roots in both geography and history?

“Is a position sought to be created where India will not be able to play any role in Sri Lanka in keeping with India’s role over the past three decades and consistent with India’s historical, geographical and cultural links with Sri Lanka?

“Does President Mahinda Rajapaksa think that China would be supportive of his pursuing a narrow political agenda in Sri Lanka? This is the question that is most worrisome from the point of view of people who are concerned about the future. There is also a great deal of concern that such a course of action would not be in the interests of Sri Lanka, India or the region.

“Of course, there is also the possibility of the very large loans that have been given by China to Sri Lanka being converted into equity and it is a matter of grave concern to many Sri Lankans who are concerned` with protecting the country’s independence in every way.

“Sri Lanka claims that it will have operational control over many projects executed by China. To what extent this will be possible is questionable. The extent of indebtedness of Sri Lanka to China would result in Sri Lanka being denied the opportunity to exercise any such operational control.

“There is defence co-operation between Sri Lanka and China which in recent times has received prominence. There were reports mid this year of the establishment of a Maintenance Facility in Trincomalee by China. This proposal had Cabinet approval. This would have been in contravention of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement.

“A Chinese submarine along with a Chinese warship docked in the Colombo Port in September 2014. It docked again in the Colombo Port on its return. Though various assurances are given by Sri Lanka – when things that did not happen earlier happen now, they cause concern and raise the question of whether there is new thinking, whether it is sought to undermine and marginalize India by Chinese dominance – the million-dollar question being with what consequences eventually, both for India and Sri Lanka, Sampanthan said.”