China and India on Sri Lanka:Supremacy or Partnership? Breaking the mirror and looking through

courtesy EPA

The LTTE and Sri Lankan Government mimicked each other’s conduct and reached an equilibrium that could have prolonged the years of bloodshed. A radical change was necessary to break the cycle of blow for blow retaliations and the first catalyst emanated from international waters.

East-West Shipping lane route

China.  The sudden resurgence of such a giant superpower revolutionized the geopolitical axis and reshaped the balance of power in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka lies just five miles off the East-West Shipping Lane; a maritime corridor used by ships as the major trade and transportation route from South-East Asia and the Far-East to Europe, the Middle East and Africa.  80% of the oil imported by China is conveyed along this shipping lane, and it expected that China will increasingly rely on such importations to fuel its growing energy demands in the future.  As such, the importance of Beijing securing a firm sphere of influence on the tiny island of Sri Lanka can’t be understated.

Chinese Port in the Indian Ocean- The so called ‘String of Pearls’

U.S. observers identified the expansion strategy of China along the shipping lane, as it built ports and facilities to safeguard its future energy supply. The amassed harbours have been christened as the ‘String of Pearls’; from Pakistan to the Maldives, Seychelles, Burma, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, China is effectively practicing a containment policy against India.  India was shaken by the success of the Sri Lankan-Chinese talks.  Sri Lanka is just a stone’s throw away from the mainland and India had always assumed its neighbour to be a firm ally.  New Delhi counterbalanced the action by starting to court Vietnam and their resources in the South China Sea, deeply angering Beijing.

courtesy Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation

Even in the face of betrayal, India remained a supporter of Rajapakse. It seems that China and India may not be playing as rivals, but rather as partners. Western commentators can only perceive the competition between the two giants, but it is more likely that the common interests shared by the Elephant and the Dragon will overshadow their minor frictions.

Indeed, many questions remain unanswered about the direction that India now wants to take in its role as the regional superpower, but you may find the answer if you look closely enough at the reflections from the broken shards of glass.

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