India is working against Chinese interests in Sri Lanka by interfering in a port project funded by Beijing because New Delhi is worried about losing its influence in the Indian Ocean, state media said on Tuesday.
Quoting local academics, nationalistic tabloid Global Times said Sri Lanka was made to repeatedly “vow” that China will not be allowed to indulge in military activities at the island nation’s Hambantota port – although the facility was always meant for civilian use.
Karunasena Kodituwakku, the Sri Lankan ambassador to China, had told mediapersons last week that Colombo will not allow China to set up a military facility at any port in the country. Chinese investors have also been informed that no civilian facility will be allowed to be used militarily, he added.
“We have to consider the neighbours’ concerns. We do not want to create any situation, which... may become (a source of) suspicion. We know the Indian Ocean is a very important ocean in international trade,” he said.
The Hambantota port is an important part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Chinese president Xi Jinping’s ambitious connectivity project. Kodituwakku’s statement has apparently riled the state media, prompting a retort.
“Sri Lanka’s promise is unnecessary because the port is meant for civilian use. It shows that India is interfering in Sri Lanka’s affairs,” said Chu Yin from the University of International Relations. “The BRI always focuses on civilian projects to help developing countries, and China respects these countries’ security concerns when pushing infrastructure development.”
Sri Lanka has had to repeatedly pacify its neighbour even over projects intended to promote Sri Lanka’s economic development, Yin said, adding that “India remains preoccupied with China’s presence in the region”.
Lin Minwang from the Institute of International Studies of Fudan University said Sri Lanka initially wanted India to help develop the Hambantota port. “However, it eventually turned to China for help because India faces financial difficulties and concerns over future competition with its own ports in the Indian Ocean,” Minwang added.
“China has no intention to offend India, and the programme is good for Sri Lanka’s economic development. However, if India has a problem with the programme and oppresses its neighbour, it only shows that it is interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries,” said Yin.
Another article in the newspaper claimed it was only natural for India to be worried if China strengthens its ties with Sri Lanka. “As Sri Lanka is a key point along the Belt and Road route, China is increasing its investment in the country situated along one of the busiest sea routes in the world. Some projects financed by China have helped Sri Lanka solidify its strategic position in South Asia’s geopolitical landscape. As China and Sri Lanka strengthen ties, India’s desire to maintain its balance of power in the region is understandable,” it said.
“China is expected to further enhance economic cooperation with Sri Lanka, and such efforts are China’s response to distrust from countries and the proliferation of groundless rumours that Beijing has military ambitions in the Indian Ocean,” the report added.