The Sri Lankan government has cleared one more Chinese project – the expressway linking the southern port city of Hambantota with Matara. At the ceremony, marking the launch of the new project on Saturday, President Maithripala Sirisena mentioned China as a “very close friend”. He vowed to work with China to “further strengthen” the ties between the two countries and promised continuity with the previous government’s policies. To be sure, the developments in Sri Lanka must come as a morality play for the Indian foreign and security policy establishment. Indeed, the right-wing Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (which mentored the NarendraModi government’s Sri Lanka policy from behind the scenes) must be feeling shell-shocked.
It will be good fun to read a commentary again on the implications of the “regime change” in Sri Lanka. Last January, a feature on the website of the Vivekananda Foundation said, “More than anything else… Sirisena will have to recalibrate Colombo’s equations with Beijing. Over the past half a decade, Rajapaksa had deftly used the Chinese card against India.”Evidently, Sirisena has a mind of his own. Sri Lanka has no intentions to curb its relations with China in deference to Delhi’s wishes. The point is, China-funded projects in Sri Lanka created over a hundred thousand jobs during the past 5-year period. It appears that 90 percent of the labor force in the Chinese-funded projects consisted of the local youth, many of whom have been trained by the Chinese companies to handle new technology.
Be that as it may, another report coming in from Pakistan is even more of an embarrassment for the Modi government than Sirisena’s China policies.
Delhi has let known that it is displeased with the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The Chinese company is joining hands with a member of the World Bank group to fund power projects in Pakistan. What can Delhi do now? Trickier than the above two unhappy instances is going to be the latest Chinese proposal for building an Economic Corridor from Tibet to India via Nepal. It is one of those “win-win” projects that Delhi will have difficulty to stonewall. Of course, given the Chinese diplomatic ingenuity, it is entirely conceivable that there will be downstream “win-win” proposals at some point to have the Tibet-Nepal-India Economic Corridor extended to Bhutan and Bangladesh as well.
Oh, these Chinese and their “win-win” projects in South Asia! The Modi government’s South Asian diplomacy is landing in a cul-de-sac. Its twin-objective has been to get Beijing to tacitly accept the South Asian region as India’s “sphere of influence” and, secondly, to dissuade India’s small neighbors from cozying up to China. China is ignoring the Indian entreaties, while the small South Asian countries apparently love to hold the Chinese hand. India’s retaliatory steps so far – new defense pact with the US, strengthening of US-Japan-India trilateral forum and so on – do not appear to impress the Chinese. If anything, they might be inspiring Beijing to conjure up all-the-more seductive “win-win” projects in the South Asian region.
A face-saving exit route for India’s diplomacy seems to be to join China’s “win-win” projects and to influence them from within. Wasn’t it Abraham Lincoln who said – ‘The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend’?