by Brig Arun Bajpai

Chinese President XiXinping was all gushing in praise of Sri Lanka and China-Srilanka friendship ties in his recent message to Sri Lanka Prime Minister Mr Sirisena on this Sunday on Srilankas 70th Independence Day. Praising current Srilankan strategic Cooperative partnership with China, Xi said he wants to further improve this cooperation between the two countries. Chinese premier Li Keqiang was also very profuse in praise of China-Srilanka strategic cooperation and friendship to his counterpart Ranil Wickeramasinghe in his message of congratulation.

Thrust of both these Chinese leaders message was that within the framework of initiative of One Belt One Road (OBOR) and Maritime Silk Route (MSR), China wishes to consolidate its traditional friendship with Srilanka, strengthen mutual political trust, deepen practical cooperation and push bilateral relationship to a new level. It needs to be understood that flush with cash, China has invested in Srilanka 8 billion dollars till date which includes number of projects including refurbishing Hambantota port on Sri lankas SE tip. What is of importance is that since Srilanka was not in a position to pay back 8 billion dollars loan taken from China with stiff interests, so it has agreed to hand over Hambantota port to China for operation on lease in debt swap for 99 years. China has also acquired the port of Djibouti in Horn of Africa. Both these Hambantota and Dijibouti ports enable china to firm up its presence in Indian Ocean and strategically surround India with string ports which China calls string of pearls. Add Gwadar port of Pakistan, which China has constructed and now operating to this and the picture is complete.

India has expressed its reservations over MSR as it has security and strategic implications for India in Indian Ocean. It needs to be understood that MSR is an integral part of OBOR Which was proposed by China in 2013.this initiative of OBOR aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa based on ancient trade and maritime trade routes enhancing china global influence. However Srilakna has found to its difficulty that unlike loans from other countries, loans from China come on difficult terms and China always drives hard bargains. Handing over of Hambantota port to China on lease for 99 years is case in point. In this context despite China wanting Sri Lanka to negotiate with it, Free trade agreement FTA at the earliest Sri Lanka is now saying that it is a small economy and does not want to hurry up the deal. Truth is that last year there were severe clashes with Sri Lankan police of Srilankan trading population against opening of Chinese industrial Zone. It was first time that opposition to Chinese investment in Srilanka had turned violent.Sri Lankan government is wary of the repeat of the same happening.

Currently Nepal is sitting on Chinese lap, Tibet is part of China, Pakistan, with China Pakistan economic corridor in which China is spending 56 billion dollars, Pakistan is now almost a colony of China, Djibouti port in Horn of Africa in Indian Ocean is again under Chinese care, Hambantota port in Sri Lanka is with China, Bangladesh Army is equipped with Chinese weapons, And Myanmar also is under Chinese influence. So china has more or less succeeded in strategically surrounding India. Then what is the option for India? India cannot match Chinese purse strings besides India should not even try matching Chinese purse strings. However India must make its Armed forces lean and mean, capable of acting at short notice. It should pack sufficient punch to deter any misdeed from China or Pakistan individually or together. Not like now where it has vast gaps in its defence preparedness. India must also enhance its capability of providing services to other countries in which it already excels. Same goes with our infrastructure construction work where due to our babudom we always are late in completing our projects. We must understand that we must pull up our socks before we are too late. Late already we are.

Brig Arun Bajpai (Retd) is a distinguished Defence and Strategic Analyst. Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDN. IDN does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same