| by N.S.Venkataraman
( October 26, 2014, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) India is reported to have expressed its serious concern to Sri Lanka over China’s increasing military presence on the island.
The concern appears to have been expressed in the context of a nuclear powered submarine known as Changzheng 2 docking at the Colombo International Container Terminal on 15th September. It was reported to be the first submarine to visit Sri Lanka from China . Before its arrival , it was reported that two Chinese naval vessels had docked in Colombo from September 7 to 13th.
After seeing these developments, obviously, government of India should be wondering as to what was the reason for the nuclear powered submarine from China visiting Sri Lanka, particularly since India has border dispute with China and China is making claims to chunk of India’s territory in Arunachal Pradesh.
Neither the Government of China nor that of Sri Lanka have explained the reasons in public domain for such activity. It is probable that the government of India has desired to get “explanation” from Sri Lankan government, in the present circumstances. It may be noted that India has not asked for such “explanation” from the government of China.
Of course, one cannot miss the point that Sri Lanka is a sovereign country and the Sri Lankan government is entitled to have any sort of relation with any country in the world and there is no need for a sovereign country to explain its stand to another country. At the same time, the ground reality is that Sri Lanka is a very close neighbouring country to India and any military presence of Chinese or any other country in Sri Lanka would cause concern to India . This will particularly be so, if India is not aware of the reasons for such presence.
While the government of India and government of Sri Lanka have been, by and large maintaining healthy relationship with each other, the fact that there have been adverse campaign against Sri Lanka in Tamil Nadu can be an irksome factor in relationship between both the countries. It is possible that the government of India may be wondering as to whether Sri Lanka is entertaining the military presence of China to counter any pressure from India ,particularly with regard to the ethnic issues in Sri Lanka.
In recent times, China has been going out of the way to help Sri Lanka by investing heavily in infrastructure projects and also by extending vocal support to Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council, where 23 countries voted in favour of an international enquiry in Sri Lanka’s human rights record in 2014. While China has extended its support to Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council, India has abstained. This could also be a major factor in Sri Lanka’s thinking , when it entertained the Chinese nuclear power submarine in Sri Lanka.
All said and done, Sri Lanka’s relations with India is far more traditional and historic with both the countries sharing cultural identity in several aspects , as compared to Sri Lanka’s relations with China. It is very important that Sri Lanka government should keep this aspect in view while maintaining its balance of relationship with India and China. Sri Lanka is a small island compared to the size of India and China with India being so close to Sri Lanka . Creating suspicions in the perspective of government of India with regard to Sri Lanka’s military relationship with China is unnecessary and avoidable and it may not be in Sri Lanka’s long term interests.
The leadership of both government of Sri Lanka and government of India should exhibit quality of maturity and statesmanship in viewing their long term relationships. Transparency is a desirable option and costly mistakes should be avoided by both the countries.