What Sri Lanka's political crisis means for India and China

Observers in Beijing and Delhi are watching events in Sri Lanka closely to see what the ...

Posted: Nov 5, 2018 10:33 AM
Updated: Nov 5, 2018 10:33 AM

Observers in Beijing and Delhi are watching events in Sri Lanka closely to see what the country's constitutional crisis means for a bigger contest: the race for influence in the Indian Ocean region.

Political turmoil in the island nation was triggered late on October 26 when Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena appointed his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, after summarily firing the incumbent, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who insists he's still in charge. The two are now set to face off in parliament in a confidence vote.

Asia

China

Continents and regions

East Asia

India

Mahinda Rajapaksa

Maithripala Sirisena

New Delhi

Political Figures - Intl

Ranil Wickremesinghe

South Asia

Sri Lanka

North America

The Americas

United States

"The move caught me and most observers here in Washington and even (the Sri Lankan capital) Colombo by surprise," said Jeff Smith, a fellow at the DC based Heritage Foundation think tank.

Sirisena came to power in 2015 with Wickremesinghe's support after breaking away from Rajapaksa, who was accused by rights groups of increasingly authoritarian behavior during his time as president between 2005 and 2015, especially during the final years of a brutal civil war that ended in May 2009.

Rajapaksa's reign had also seen an influx of Chinese investment in Sri Lanka: between 2005 and 2014, Beijing investments and contracts totaled more than $15 billion, according to the American Enterprise Institute, raising eyebrows in Washington and its ally New Delhi.

Chinese investments paid for a new port on Sri Lanka's southern coast, a new airport and new railway, among other projects that saddled Colombo with a multi-billion dollar mountain of debt. Alarm bells also went off in 2014, when Chinese a submarine docked in Colombo.

New era

Rajapaksa's ouster raised hopes for democracy and an improvement in human rights in Sri Lanka.

For many in the US and India, it was also seen as an opportunity to counter Chinese influence in New Delhi's backyard, with the new Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government coming to power "pledging to revisit and revise some of the deals Rajapaksa had signed with China," said Smith.

"It ultimately found itself in a compromised economic position and forced to renegotiate rather than cancel some of the contracts," he explained.

Struggling to service its debts, in 2017 Sri Lanka moved to lease the Chinese-funded port in the south -- to Chinese state-owned firms.

Still, in recent years Colombo also "did a good job assuaging some of India's concerns about Chinese activity in Sri Lanka and ... really significantly improving cooperation with the US over the last few years," said Smith.

According to Smith, some elements of cooperation had been halted or limited during Rajapaksa's term over concerns of human rights violations and the military's conduct during the civil war.

"Some of those avenues... resumed or were upgraded after the new government came to power in 2015," Smith said, highlighting progress on both the economic and military fronts, with a US aircraft carrier visiting Colombo in 2017.

Uncertain future

But with Sirisena now backing Rajapaksa again, the question is what happens now. Will China have the upper hand if Rajapaksa displaces Wickremesinghe?

It might not be so simple, according to Constantino Xavier of the Brookings Institution's Indian arm.

"People quite superficially tend to portray Mahinda Rajapaksa in particular as a primitive, anti-India, pro-China person and conversely Ranil Wickremesinghe somehow as the leader of more pro-India factions," said Xavier, pointing, as an example, to a recent visit to New Delhi by Rajapaksa.

"After burning some of his bridges with Delhi, (he is) being smart enough to rebuild them. His visit in September was part of that exercise," said Xavier.

India was clearly concerned about the level of Chinese influence and activity during Rajapaksa's last term in power. But it's likely that China, with its financial muscle, is here to stay, no matter who is in power, in Sri Lanka or in the other small countries across the region, said Xavier.

"This applies to the Maldives, this applies to Nepal, this applies to Bangladesh and it applies to Sri Lanka," said Xavier, adding that although some countries will continue to work with India, Chinese money means that cooperation is no exclusive.

"The Chinese are now and will be permanently involved economically in these countries. Because they have the financial power."

Huntsville
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 70°
Florence
Clear
69° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 69°
Fayetteville
Few Clouds
70° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 70°
Decatur
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 68°
Scottsboro
Overcast
73° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 73°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 19387

Reported Deaths: 676
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2341123
Jefferson1927105
Montgomery190544
Tuscaloosa85316
Marshall7149
Franklin5939
Lee56334
Shelby53619
Tallapoosa43566
Butler43121
Walker3973
Elmore38110
Chambers36326
Madison3594
Unassigned3144
Morgan3141
Baldwin2969
Dallas2963
Lowndes26912
Etowah26512
DeKalb2603
Autauga2485
Coffee2401
Sumter2369
Houston2275
Pike2231
Bullock2197
Colbert1972
Hale19210
Russell1870
Barbour1831
Marengo1796
Lauderdale1752
Calhoun1693
Cullman1631
Wilcox1587
Choctaw15310
Clarke1492
St. Clair1372
Randolph1288
Dale1250
Marion12511
Talladega1215
Pickens1215
Limestone1100
Chilton1081
Greene955
Macon944
Winston920
Jackson863
Henry842
Covington831
Crenshaw803
Escambia793
Bibb761
Washington746
Blount641
Lawrence510
Monroe492
Geneva450
Perry430
Conecuh421
Coosa401
Cherokee383
Clay282
Lamar280
Fayette160
Cleburne151

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 25664

Reported Deaths: 408
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby5669127
Davidson563869
Rutherford139829
Trousdale13944
Hamilton99219
Sumner95146
Lake8350
Bledsoe6131
Williamson59511
Robertson5425
Putnam5256
Tipton4673
Wilson4598
Knox4455
Out of TN4264
Bedford3024
Montgomery2873
Rhea2170
Hardeman2040
Bradley1742
Madison1732
Macon1713
Loudon1650
Unassigned1610
McMinn14614
Fayette1442
Cheatham1400
Dickson1210
Cumberland1202
Maury1081
Sevier1002
Blount933
Coffee810
Washington760
Monroe743
Wayne640
Gibson631
Sullivan602
Lauderdale601
Dyer590
Hickman590
Franklin541
Greene522
Unicoi490
Obion481
Hamblen442
Marion441
Anderson422
DeKalb390
Smith361
Lawrence350
Marshall341
White340
Hawkins342
Haywood342
Overton330
Grundy321
Cannon320
Henry320
Lincoln300
Jefferson290
Carroll281
Meigs270
Warren270
Weakley260
Perry240
Hardin222
Cocke210
Sequatchie200
Polk190
Carter191
Jackson190
Johnson190
Campbell181
Morgan180
Roane170
Humphreys161
Crockett163
Grainger150
Henderson150
McNairy150
Giles140
Stewart140
Scott130
Chester120
Fentress120
Claiborne120
Houston80
Clay80
Benton71
Decatur50
Moore50
Van Buren40
Union40
Lewis30
Pickett30
Hancock10

 

 

Community Events