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Regional Political Turmoil Reflects India-China Rivalry

Recent differences between President Sirisena and his sacked prime minister over whether a container terminal at Colombo’s port should be developed with Indian investment also strained their ties.

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India. political
Maldives' new President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, center right, receives Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the President's office in Male, Maldives. VOA

Political developments in two tiny countries in the Indian Ocean region, Maldives and Sri Lanka, reflect the growing rivalry between India and China in the strategic region. A new government, which is resetting frayed ties with India, has taken over in the Maldives from the previous administration seen as pro-China. But political turmoil has engulfed Sri Lanka following the controversial reemergence of a pro-China leader on the political center stage of the island nation on India’s southern tip.

Optimistic of regaining ground lost to China in the Maldives in recent years, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew in to the Maldivian capital, Male for the swearing-in of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih as president, who won a surprise victory in September. Modi was the highest-ranking foreign leader at the ceremony held on Saturday.

Shifting ties

New Delhi was not disappointed. Solih signaled an end to the country’s pro-China stance as both countries expressed confidence in the “renewal” of their close bonds. The new Maldivian leader mentioned a “dire economic situation” facing the country due to the country’s growing debt with Beijing incurred as his predecessor signed onto a host of China-funded projects. “The damage done due to projects conducted only for political reasons, and at a loss, are huge,” he said.

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Ibrahim Mohamed Solih (C), the president-elect of the Maldives, interacts with his supporters during a gathering in Male, Maldives. VOA

Meanwhile the head of the Maldivian National Party that leads the ruling alliance, Mohammad Nasheed, has said that the new government would pull out of a free-trade agreement signed last year with China.

The statements were positive for India, which saw its influence in the Maldives decline under Solih’s predecessor, and worried that a spate of infrastructure projects by Beijing could pave the way for it to establish a strategic base on the islands chain.

Modi assured the Maldives that New Delhi would help get it through its economic difficulties.

But even as New Delhi looks to rebuild bridges with the Maldives, observers caution that India will struggle to maintain its once predominant influence in its neighborhood amid growing Chinese presence in South Asian countries.

Chinese state companies already have large investments in the Maldives and thousands of well-heeled Chinese tourists pour into the country every year.

“As China pushes itself into the Indian Ocean region, one of the key drivers that all these countries are now pursuing is trying to maximize benefits from both India and China,” says K. Yhome at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

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Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena waves to supporters during a rally outside the parliamentary complex in Colombo, Sri Lanka. VOA

Sri Lanka

Observers point to developments in another Indian Ocean country, Sri Lanka, where in 2015 the defeat of a pro-China leader Mahinda Rajapaksa brought into power a new administration friendlier to India under President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

But in a hugely controversial development, Sirisena last month sacked Wickremesinghe, seen as more pro-India, and appointed Rajapaksa as his prime minister. Rajapaksa has twice failed to prove his majority in parliament and the move has attracted criticism from Western countries amid fears that it violates the constitution and is a setback to democracy in Sri Lanka.

Although the political tussle in Sri Lanka was largely triggered by deep differences between President Sirisena and Wickemesinghe, who led a fragile coalition, observers say the shadow of India and China is not far away.

Pointing out that a domestic crisis presents an “opportune moment” for big powers, Harinda Vidanage, director of the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies in Colombo says that “the larger context of the current political situation is clearly the intensifying India-China rivalry in countries like Sri Lanka.”

Others also point to the reemergence of Rajapaksa, who took the country closer to China during his ten-year rule.

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A photo taken Feb. 10, 2015, shows a general view of Sri Lanka’s deep sea harbor port facilities at Hambantota. VOA

“The assumption is that whatever Rajapaksa does, the financial bill as it were will be met in some way by the Chinese,” says Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, head of the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo, “The consequences of that of course is that it will push us further into the Chinese arms as it were.”

Rajapaksa had awarded a string of projects to Beijing including building a strategic port at Hambantota. In a bid to counter China’s growing presence, New Delhi also began bidding for infrastructure projects.

Also Read: Parliament In Sri Lanka Get Dissolved, President Calls For Election

However recent differences between President Sirisena and his sacked prime minister over whether a container terminal at Colombo’s port should be developed with Indian investment also strained their ties. Wickremesinghe, according to reports, wanted the project to go to India, President Sirisena did not.

Observers also say that although China has faced criticism that many of its investments under its ambitious Belt and Road initiative are driving smaller nations like Sri Lanka and the Maldives into debt, the Chinese offers of gleaming infrastructure continue to be an allure for smaller countries. (VOA)

 

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India to Launch Electronic Intelligence Satellite Soon

In January, the space agency launched a defence imaging satellite Microsat R for the DRDO

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TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is shown in this conceptual illustration obtained by Reuters on March 28, 2018. NASA sent TESS into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. VOA

India on April 1 will launch an electronic intelligence satellite Emisat for the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) along with 28 third party satellites and also demonstrate its new technologies like three different orbits with a new variant of PSLV rocket, ISRO said on Saturday.

According to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), a new variant of its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket will first put the 436 kg Emisat into a 749 km orbit.

After that, the rocket will be brought down to put into orbit the 28 satellites at an altitude of 504 km.

This will be followed by bringing the rocket down further to 485 km when the fourth stage/engine will turn into a payload platform carrying three experimental payloads: (a) Automatic Identification System (AIS) from ISRO for Maritime satellite applications capturing messages transmitted from ships (b) Automatic Packet Repeating System (APRS) from AMSAT (Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation), India – to assist amateur radio operators in tracking and monitoring position data and (c) Advanced Retarding Potential Analyser for Ionospheric Studies (ARIS) from Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST) – for the structural and compositional studies of ionosphere, the space agency said.

The whole flight sequence will take about 180 minutes from the rocket’s lift off slated at 9.30 a.m. on April 1.

The 28 international customer satellites (24 from US, 2 from Lithuania and one each from Spain and Switzerland)- will weigh about 220 kg.

OSIRIS-REx, NASA, Asteroid bennu
Satellite To Conduct Biological Experiments In Space, Plans Space Kidz India. VOA

“It is a special mission for us. We will be using a PSLV rocket with four strap-on motors. Further, for the first time we will be trying to orbit the rocket at three different altitudes,” ISRO Chairman K. Sivan had earlier told IANS.

The PSLV is a four-stage engine expendable rocket with alternating solid and liquid fuel.

In its normal configuration, the rocket will have six strap-on motors hugging the rocket’s first stage.

On January 24, the ISRO flew a PSLV with two strap-on motors while in March, it had four strap-on motors.

The Indian space agency also has two more PSLV variants, viz Core Alone (without any strap-on motors) and the larger PSLV-XL.

Also Read- UAE Launches ‘Lose to Win’ Programme to Help Overweight Employers to Shed Extra Kilos

The ISRO selects the kind of rocket to be used based on the weight of satellites it carries.

The ISRO will also be launching two more defence satellites sometime in July or August with its new rocket Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV).

In January, the space agency launched a defence imaging satellite Microsat R for the DRDO. (IANS)