Sri Lanka Is Coming Into Play

Uncertainty is growing in Sri Lanka as the nation’s top political leaders have not been heard from in the aftermath of Saturday’s takeover of the presidential residence and offices. The prime minister’s own residence was overrun by protesters as well. Since Saturday’s unrest, Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has not been heard from. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinge has gone radio silent too. There have been reports the president plans to resign on Wednesday, however Rajapaksa has not addressed the reports or his intentions. At the present time it is unclear who, if anyone, is leading Sri Lanka. The longer Rajapaksa remains incommunicado, the greater the chances are of a vacuum forming in Colombo. Opposition leaders are trying to determine if Rajapaksa will in fact resign on Wednesday, and if so, what will the nation’s new government look like. At first glance the speaker of parliament appears to be the probable choice to lead the nation after Rajapaksa’s departure, yet it is unclear what meetings are going on behind the scenes.

Events over the weekend make it clear Sri Lanka is just about in play on the geopolitical chessboard. Whoever takes the reins of power in Colombo next will be faced with the daunting task of preventing the country from careening off the cliff into economic oblivion once and for all. To stop this from happening, large amounts of financial and material aid will be needed. Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, its moment of need comes in the midst of global instability brought on by the Ukraine war and subsequent surging energy prices. India, which has been Sri Lanka’s guardian angel of sorts for a long time, has already contributed billions of dollars in an effort to keep the nation afloat. Yet more funds, fuel and food will be needed in the coming weeks and months.

Should India fail to stabilize Sri Lanka, the door will open for China to move in and attempt to save Sri Lanka while at the same time dragging the island nation inexorably into Beijing’s sphere of influence. Attention should be locked on Sri Lanka and the entire Indian Ocean region in the upcoming week. Things are happening there which will have a significant effect on regional security as well as the growing India-China rivalry.

Sri Lanka Crisis Update: Shortages Loom, Some Help On The Way

Sri Lanka is girding for potential shortages of food products and fuel in the near future. Citizens have been lining up for cooking gas, automobile fuel since Friday. As the government attempts to stave off complete economic meltdown, the nation has defaulted on debt for the first time in its history. So, much to the chagrin of Sri Lanka’s leaders, the economic outlook remains bleak as the government lifts the state of emergency decree that has been in place since early May. The state of emergency went into effect as a result of violent street protests and riots in Colombo and across the country in late April and early May. The root cause of the unrest was spiraling inflation and other factors of the nation’s economic crisis.

India and Japan will provide emergency relief to the island-nation in a bid to stave off a complete collapse. The first ship laden with food and other material will depart from India on Wednesday. Japan will provide an emergency grant for $3 million worth of medicine and food. These moves also have geopolitical purpose as both nations would prefer to keep Chinese involvement in the Sri Lankan crisis at bay. Tokyo and New Delhi are wary about offering an opening for China to expand its presence and influence in the Indian Ocean region.

India and China Are Maneuvering For Political And Military Advantages Part II

India’s maneuvering is taking place at sea, both literally and figuratively. Sea Vigil 21, a biennial naval exercise starts today and will run through the next forty-eight hours. The scope of the exercise, in comparison to the one held in 2019, has expanded considerably. The exercise area for Sea Vigil 21 will include all 7500+ kilometers of India’s coastline and the Exclusive Economic Zone. Although mainly a coastal defense exercise aimed at securing India’s long and somewhat vulnerable shoreline, this year’s installment of Sea Vigil will act as a lead in to the major Indian Navy theater-level exercise TROPEX. The later exercise is the larger and more expansive one. Together, they will cover a transition from peacetime to war in the maritime areas, as well as the initial phases of operations at sea against an enemy force.

In recent years it has become evident that the IOR (Indian Ocean Region) is becoming more critical to Chinese geopolitical designs. China’s power in the IOR has expanded, and the same holds true for its footprint. The IOR provides crucial Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCs) for many Asian nations as energy and trade corridors. Any vulnerabilities to them will bring on immediate effects for the economies of most Asian nations. China included. So, with this in mind the Chinese naval presence in the IOR has grown in the past few years. It is well to remember though, that in a time of crisis or conflict Chinese naval and air forces in the IOR might be more concerned with interdicting these SLOCs instead of keeping them secure.

For much of its history, India paid limited attention to the Indian Ocean. The absence of a maritime threat kept India’s naval focus locked on combating piracy and terrorism. Pakistan posed, and continues to pose a fairly limited naval threat. Concerns about China’s emerging power in the IOR have overtaken these issues. India’s strategic position in the IOR is being challenged by China. New Delhi has grown used to the Chinese military threat posed along its land border. The growing maritime threat is bringing on a new front to the Sino-Indian rivalry, as well as additional complications for India.

Sea Vigil 21, and TROPEX signal India’s acceptance of this new reality, as well as its determination to meet the challenge being posed in close proximity to its home waters head on.

Wednesday 13 December, 2017 Update: China Strengthens its Grip on Sri Lanka

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The Sri Lankan government formally handed over control of the strategic port of Hambantota to China last week. The two nations signed a 99 year lease that gives the Chinese almost-complete control of the port as partial payment on the $8.8 Billion debt Sri Lanka owes to the PRC. China’s presence in Sri Lanka has grown over the last five years and the relationship between the two has flourished as a result. Chinese firms have invested billions of dollars to modernize Sri Lankan port facilities as part of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ drive to expand Chinese market reach.

Concern is expanding across South Asia over China’s investment in Sri Lanka and the level of Chinese involvement in the region overall. Instinctively, New Delhi is alarmed, and suspicious of further Chinese encroachment upon its sphere of influence. The Indians are wary of the growing Chinese challenge to its regional hegemony. Consequently situation in Sri Lanka is hitting close to home both literally and figuratively. The island nation is situated just off India’s southeastern coast and it has been firmly inside of India’s orbit for years. India has invested large sums of treasure, and material to stabilize the island. To address the Chinese presence and influence, India has partnered with Japan to develop Sir Lanka’s eastern coastline, and improve the existing infrastructure there. Beyond India, pushback over Chinese investments and influence has occurred in Nepal, Pakistan, and Myanmar.

India-China relations are still on the mend following the Doklam standoff earlier this year. Both nations appear sincere in their desires to see ties continue improving. However, the potential for an economic proxy war in Sri Lanka is quite real. This situation, along with other rising economic and security challenges in the region threaten to disrupt those relations indefinitely. China is aggressively using its economic power to extend its geopolitical influence far beyond its own borders.

With that influence now butting up against Indian shores, the ball is in New Delhi’s court. India’s response could very well define India-China relations for some time to come.