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India wary of China’s increasing role in Lanka
Ashok Tuteja
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 13
The growing influence of China in Sri Lanka, which may upset New Delhi’s geo-political interests in South Asia, appears to have compelled the South Block weigh the pros and cons of removing restrictions on arms sales to the island nation.

Official sources said the enhancement of defence ties between India and Sri Lanka figured in talks between the two sides during the recent visit of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to New Delhi.

“Both leaders agreed to promote dialogue on security and defence issues of relevance to their bilateral relationship, and enhance high-level military exchanges and training of military personnel as well as impart additional training in Indian institutions for the newly recruited police personnel. They agreed to institute an annual defence dialogue between the two governments,” a joint statement issued by India and Sri Lanka at the end of Rajapaksa’s visit said.

However, the sources said the joint statement had merely reflected the desire of the two countries to increase defence cooperation. Details of how the two sides would proceed in the matter would be discussed in the coming days during high-level exchanges.

Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Nirmal Verma is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka shortly to start the process of working out ways to deepen defence ties.

New Delhi is wary of the increasing role of China in Sri Lanka, which, many in strategic circles here believe, is part of Beijing’s strategy to encircle India in the sub-continent. Helping China in its designs in Sri Lanka is Pakistan. Pakistan is reported to have supplied al-Khalids (Pakistan’s main battle tank) and advanced rocket launchers to Sri Lanka in recent years.

Even in the war against the LTTE, Sri Lankan forces are believed to have stockpiled arms and even sought help from military commanders from China and Pakistan before the final offensive against the LTTE. India had at that time refused to supply what it considered “offensive weapons” to Sri Lanka that would have been used against the LTTE.

Since the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka is an emotive issue in India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, given the cultural and linguistic affinities, New Delhi had so far resisted any attempt to get militarily involved in the conflict in the island nation. But the sources said the situation had changed with the decimation of the LTTE.

“We obviously don’t wish to become mere spectators in the evolving situation in Sri Lanka when other players in the region and outside are trying to become overactive… the stability of Sri Lanka is important to us,” they added.

India has also now decided to open a consulate at Hambantota on Sri Lanka’s south coast where the island nation is building a deep-water port with the Chinese help.

Sources said the presence of a large number of Chinese workers in Sri Lanka had also figured prominently in talks between the two sides. The Sri Lankan side assured New Delhi that these workers were not there on a permanent basis. They would return to China as soon as they completed their work.





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