In an article on The Economist, Gotabaya Rajapakse revealed that his brother said “we have understood who is important to us”. The crucial point is that China is satisfied with the increase of its sphere of influence without asking questions. Palitha Kohona, former Sri Lanka’s foreign secretary put it very clearly: “Asians don’t go around teaching each other how to behave,” he said. “There are ways we deal with each other — perhaps a quiet chat, but not wagging the finger”.
In May 2012 Gotabaya Rajapaksa held talks with his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie , days before the UNHRC move to put pressure on Colombo in regards of the alleged war crimes.
“The two countries’ relations have witnessed smooth development and we have made remarkable achievements since we entered diplomatic relations 55 years ago,” Liang was quoted as saying in the report.
I note that during an intense diplomatic campaign, Sri Lanka is not contacting the foreign office but the ministry of defence.
The Rajapaksa’s clearly proved who is important to them. China will support them in security council. So, no UN resolution of any relevancy can pass. The relationship with Beijing couldn’t be more linear, straight and easy to understand.
And here we have a problem of understanding. Because the more Colombo is aligned with Beijing, the more New Delhi should be worried. If we forget for a second the severe accusations about the civilians killings and reason about the moves in the balance of forces, we have this situation. Rajapaksa strikes a special relation with China closer than ever. India considers Sri Lanka an internal affair; it can’t allow to lose the island. And it has a powerful, handy tool to counterbalance any move in Colombo. It is called LTTE and Tamil nationalism. When Sri Lanka moved too close to the USA in the ’80’s, New Delhi basically invented the LTTE and the armed struggle. So why India decides to give everything up? You may think that they prefer to start from scratch and reinvent in a new form the Tamil militancy, because they couldn’t obviously rely entirely on the LTTE. This is possible. And it takes ages. China in the short and medium term will gain land and influence. It will be much more difficult to evict the Chinese once they are there, than shutting them out in the first place.
The traditional interpretation states that India didn’t want to lose anymore positions against China, so it supported Colombo. Essentially this version considers India’s move as chasing the Chinese and of course putting president Rajapaksa in the role of card-dealer. I think that Rajapaksa is a clever politician and he knows how to outsell his position. I think that the deals struck with the Chinese are real and effective: i.e. Hambantota will provide facilities for Chinese ships, probably also for military purposes. What I think is not real is a fearful, comatose attitude by New Delhi.
Rajapaksa always shows obedience and submission to India; many pundits comment as false and hypocritical his attitude. And they are upset by the fact that New Delhi doesn’t see how fraudulent and misleading is their counterpart in Colombo. All the Indian officers show extreme confidence in Rajapaksa.
They are convinced that the real big ally of Sri Lanka is India, not China. It seems, they are sure that Colombo is simply milking China. I think that the Congress is not so naïve and is perfectely aware of all the news available to the pundits. I think New Delhi is the card-dealer in the Indian Ocean. And they are not chasing decisions made by Rajapaksa, but granting him concessions, which he will have to pay out. Indian generals are worried by the growing presence of the Chinese. But they are not in charge in power. Others are the rulers and I think that the rulers are not concerned by port given to the Chinese. Of course, with an appropriate exchange.
In other words, I think Rajapaksa is not the card-dealer, but simply a dealer, a middle-man, who is playing a big game in between two giants. He’s taking some risks and he’s certainly taking some good profits. But not at New Delhi’s expenses.