- India sends RAW chief after lending $500 mln loan
- RAW chief met President Wickremesinghe, former finmin Basil Rajapaksa
- China sends fuel, rice after sending its research ship in August amid Indian protest
- Analysts say Sri Lanka’s bargain power to deal with India, China down after crisis
ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe was asked by the chief of Indian intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) to fulfil all the commitments the island nation has promised since 1987 including a Federal solution for the ethnic minority Tamils, sources close to the president said.
The RAW chief Samant Kumar Goel also has discussed possible threats by the expansion projects of China which now has a strong foothold in Sri Lanka mainly on commercial aspects. But India and the West suspects China has a military agenda which Beijing has vehemently rejected.
Sri Lanka is in the middle of an unfolding geopolitical cold war between China and Indian-led ally which also includes the other QUAD nations – The United States, Japan, and Australia.
The visit of Goel comes amid indirect efforts by Wickremesinghe to meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi since the last month, sources said.
“He (Goel) discussed on the pending issues including some commercial transactions. He also raised concerns over increased activities by China and Pakistan in Sri Lanka’s North and East,” a source close to president told EconomyNext referring to Sri Lankan provinces which are closest to South India and dominated by ethnic minority Tamils.
Another government source said: “Well, he has raised all the commitments Sri Lanka has undertaken including the implementation of 13th amendment.”
President Wickremesinghe last week expressed his willingness to negotiate a solution for the long lasting issues faced by Tamils.
President’s Media Division did not respond to the queries by EconomyNext on the meeting between Wickremesinghe and the RAW chief.
Cabinet Spokesman denies
Officials at Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry said they did not facilitate RAW chief’s visit to Sri Lanka, while the cabinet spokesman said he was not aware of any such visit.
“I swear that I don’t know such an intelligence chief met the president or any other government official,”Cabinet Spokesman Bandula Gunawardena told weekly cabinet press briefing on Tuesday.
“If there was such a meeting, the president will inform that to the parliament. We believe that he reveal all the information to the nation without hiding anything,”
Political sources said the RAW chief also met finance minister and strategist of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Basil Rajapaksa.
“I think the message is related to the upcoming election,” a source close to Rajapaksa told EconomyNext.
Officials from Indian High Commission were not immediately available for comment on the RAW chief’s visit.
The Indian intelligence chief’s visit also comes ahead of intensifying demands for local government and parliament polls by both organized political parties and people those who participated the April-July protests which ousted former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Government sources said the reason for the RAW chief’s visit was part of India’s efforts to see a stable long term government to assist Sri Lanka to overcome the current economic crisis.
Sri Lanka’s unique and strategic location in the Indian Ocean has attracted major World powers. However, Sri Lanka has so far not succeeded fully in managing the world powers in a none-aligned manner according to some analysts.
There was a strategy under former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, but it failed eventually, they say.
Indian role, concerns over China
Some political analysts are wary of India’s agenda on Sri Lanka.
“It is in the public domain how India worked against Ranil Wickremesinghe in the July 19 election among the MPs to select the president,” a political analyst who is critical of Rajapaksa told EconomyNext.
“Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa himself in 2015 said it was India and RAW who defeated him. So the RAW chief’s visit could be something more than what we hear. How can India order a sovereign nation on how and whom to deal with?”
Despite Indian’s offering over two billion dollars to Sri Lanka at a crucial juncture as well as other kinds of support many Sri Lankans still do not have confidence in the Asia’s fastest growing nation due to its backing for Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at the beginning of 26-year civil conflict in Sri Lanka in 1983.
According to other analysts Indian concerns can be partially justified because of how China is expanding in Sri Lanka.
Since the end of the war in 2009, China has invested billions of US dollars mainly in Sri Lanka’s long-neglected infrastructure.
Sri Lanka owes nearly 20 percent of its total $35 billion of external debts to China.
The criticism from India and the West is that the Chinese investments have failed to give significant return on investment to repay the island nation’s loan and thus Sri Lanka is caught in a “debt trap” by China.
China has rejected this.
Foreign Minister Ali Sabry in an interview with Indian media rejected allegations about a debt trap and said “we don’t agree with that phrase.”
Bad to worse in economic crisis
China has been expanding its assistance to Sri Lanka in the form of fuel and rice specially targeting fishermen and the poor.
China has also started funding underprivileged universality students in Jaffna and Eastern Universities. This has also drawn Indian concerns, university sources have told EconomyNext.
Jaffna University Students’ Union last week said they are opposed to a move by the government to sign a memorandum of understanding with a Chinese agricultural university.
Sri Lanka has lost its bargaining power to negotiate with both India and China in the current economic crisis and the Asian giants are major external creditors and the island nation’s recovery from the economic crisis depends on the debt restructuring agreement by the both nations, according to analysts.
“Sending a ship that is alleged to be a spying ship showed that China wants to prove its influence in Sri Lanka. And now India has responded it with sending its RAW chief to directly discuss with Sri Lanka’s president,” a pro Wickremesinghe political analyst told EconomyNext asking not to be named.
“But we have no options because we are in a crisis where we need the help of both these nations.” (Colombo/Nov30/2022)