Oct 16 (Tribune) To counter China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, India has offered $50 million to Sri Lanka to upgrade its defense sector.
The two countries hosted a virtual summit to deliberate on security and defense partnership, after which Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa made a joint statementon Sep 26.
“We want to strengthen cooperation between the armed forces of the two sides, including through mutual exchange of personnel visits, maritime security cooperation and support to Sri Lanka in the spheres of defense and security,” the statement read.
The statement also claimed to “enhance cooperation to combat terrorism and drug trafficking including in the fields of intelligence, information sharing, de-radicalization, and capacity building.”
Sri Lanka has recently secured a $90-million grant from China for “medical care, education, and water supplies”. China has been aggressively expanding its network in the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal region to materialize its String of Pearls doctrine.
Under this geopolitical objective, China aims to construct infrastructure networks in the littoral countries from the South China Sea to the Middle East. Defense experts said China will eventually build a network of Chinese military and commercial assets in the Indian Ocean to support its naval operations.
The territory extends from the mainland of China to the Port of Sudan, and the assets being built might be used as Chinese military bases. China has already pushed for a larger role in the region under its Belt and Road Initiative and Maritime Silk Route, and Sri Lanka is a vital cog in its maritime plans.
“They have two policies — either you engage India, or if you cannot engage India, encircle them,” said Sanjay K Bharadwaj, a professor of South Asian Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. “A few years back, a Chinese submarine was spotted in the Indian Ocean near Sri Lanka. India is trying to strengthen its security in the Indian Ocean region, and, undoubtedly, India wants a stronghold in Sri Lanka.”
The recent credit to Sri Lanka can be seen as India’s attempt to combat China’s burgeoning influence in the region.