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China builds up its clout in Sri Lanka

Colombo, Mar 26 (): China is steadily building up its clout in Sri Lanka that sits just about 31 km across the Palk Strait from the southern tip of India.

The anti-Sri Lanka protests recently witnessed in Tamil Nadu against Sri Lanka and its alleged atrocities on Tamils and India’s vote in favour of the US-backed resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC sessions  in Geneva have only put China at a greater advantage over India, political analysts say.

India’s aid to Sri Lanka in the years  2007 – 2011 is pegged at only $298.1 million while China poured a whopping $2.126 billion in  Sri Lanka, making it the largest foreign aid provider to the country. Indian aid has been targeted at improving healthcare and education sectors, when the Chinese funds are aimed at developing prominent infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka.

The Export-Import Bank of China has offered financial assistance to construct Lotus Tower, a 350-meter multi-functional telecommunication tower and entertainment centre, in Peliyagoda, near Colombo.

Last week , Chinese President Xi Jinping in a tele-exchange with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa assured him that China would continue to support Sri Lanka’s efforts to protect its national autonomy, apparently from attacks such as those arising from the UNHRC resolution and would continue to offer assistance.

$206 million Mattala Rajapakse International Airport in Hambantota district, the country’s second international airport, was opened in mid-March. Built with funding from China’s Export-Import Bank, Air Arabia became the first foreign airline to start scheduled flights form this Chinese-funded airport.

Though India’s NTPC, as its maiden overseas venture planned to  set up a 500 MW coal based power station in a joint venture with Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) of Sri Lanka, reports said in February that NTPC was mulling exit from its project in Sri Lanka over differences existing between CEB and the NTPC. Sri Lanka  is now said to look east for a Chinese tie-up for taking the project ahead.

The China-built $1.5 billion Hambantota port, to be unveiled in Sri Lanka this June is set to become Sri Lanka’s biggest port.

Sri Lanka’s defence secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has reasoned out that increased presence of China in the Indian Ocean would only supplement the safety and stability of the Indian Ocean that is critical for China’s energy security.

Alarm bells rang in New Delhi after recent reports of space collaboration of China with Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka-based  Supreme SAT Pvt Ltd. is likely to launch its first telecommunication satellite  at a cost of $320 million in partnership with China Great Wall Industry Corporation in 2015. A space academy-cum satellite ground station are also planned at Kandy.

With India’s national security agencies having expressed concern over the increased Chinese presence in Sri Lanka, the inter-ministerial meeting moderated by deputy NSA held on March 25 was claimed to have discussed the issue to the last minutest detail.