18 August, 2022


China Cashing On India’s Sri Lanka Woes

By R Hariharan

Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

Even as the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh was finding it hard to make up his mind over attending the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting) to be held in Colombo in two weeks from now, China is making the best use of the situation to strengthen its presence in Sri Lanka. China’s intention is obvious: profit from India’s discomfiture in Sri Lanka to occupy India’s strategic space in the island nation.

On October 24 when the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms Jayalalithaa was moving a resolution asking the Centre to ‘totally boycott’ the CHOGM “in deference to the overwhelming feeling and sentiments of Tamils,” Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa was praising China’s generosity, while opening of the renovated venue for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Convention Hall (BMICH). When President Rajapaksa wanted to renovate the BMICH, China chipped in to meet the cost of about $15.3 million (Sri Lankan Rs 2 billion). In fact China had donated the BMICH, Colombo’s prestigious conference centre nearly a decade ago. It now stands as a visible reminder of China’s “enduring generosity” to Sri Lanka.

Even as Ms Jayalalithaa castigated the Centre for failing to act upon another “historic resolution” passed by the Tamil Nadu Assembly on July 8, 2011 which sought an economic embargo on Sri Lanka until Tamils were fully resettled and rehabilitated, Sri Lanka was negotiating with China to finalise a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The government-owned Sunday Observer described the China-Sri Lanka FTA as the biggest development in Sino-Lanka cooperation since the 1952 Rubber-Rice Pact.

Two months ago, Sri Lanka’s minister for industry and commerce Rishad Bathiudeen was hopeful of finalising the FTA before the CHOGM in November 2013. However, the Deputy International Trade Representative of the Commerce Ministry of China, Yu Jianhua who visited Sri Lanka last month was more realistic. He expected “the preparatory process of the FTA to be completed by December this year.” He was keen to see the groundwork on this FTA completed by December this year.

The Chinese representative added “Sri Lanka is a priority country for the Ministry of Commerce, China (MOFCOM). The FTA will not only upgrade trade levels between Sri Lanka and China but will also enhance trade skills of both countries as well. We will work diligently in our joint efforts.” Yu said before visiting Colombo, he had looked carefully at China’s trade links with Sri Lanka on issues like tariffs, market access in China, diversifying Sri Lanka’s exports, and overall enhancement of Sri Lanka’s export potential to China.”

In his view, the FTA was not only for trade “but something beyond, to institutionalise our strategic cooperation partnership as mandated by the leaders of both countries. We encourage Chinese firms to become involved in Sri Lanka’s economic development.”

The Chinese efforts to enhance its trading opportunities on the sidelines of CHOGM are interesting. According to Xinhua, 42 Chinese companies were among the 83 foreign companies participating in the trade exhibition “Reflections of Sri Lanka” being held on the sidelines of the CHOGM. In contrast, despite being Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner, India will be represented by only 21 companies at the exhibition.

Sri Lanka has been wooing Chinese business to invest in Sri Lanka saying it could reap the benefits of the island nation’s FTA with India and Pakistan (and the proposed SAFA –South Asian Free Trade Agreement when it becomes a reality). India has a flourishing FTA with Sri Lanka since 1996. It has helped India-Sri Lanka trade to grow from $600 million in 2000 to $5 billion in 2012. As against this, China-Sri Lanka trade even without an FTA has grown from $658.4 million in 2005 to $2676.13 million by 2012. Obviously, China-Sri Lanka trade aided by an FTA would retard the growth of India’s trade with Sri Lanka.

Ever since the Eelam War excesses started to haunt Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu has become the focal point of hate campaign against Sri Lanka in India affecting the excellent relations between the two countries. Of late, a beleaguered Sri Lanka has started using trade as a pressure point to express its concern over India’s “Sri Lanka politics.” The CHOGM which should have been an inconsequential international event turning into a political contest in India is a case in point.

So how should India respond to Sri Lanka-China FTA? In fact, Tamil Nadu should be debating this issue because the state had benefitted most from the FTA with Sri Lanka. But in the polemics of partisan politics, the issue seems to have been wished away. The anachronism is even the few Sri Lankan business and cultural establishments in Chennai are under police protection lest pro-Eelam fringe elements attack them just as they carried out petrol bombs attacks on two post offices in Chennai, in protest against India’s participation in the CHOGM. The pity is it is happening as indecisive national leadership looks on helplessly. At least it seems so.

*The author, a retired MI officer, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka from 1987 to 90. He can be contacted at colhari@yahoo.com – First appeared in South Asia Analysis Group Paper No. 5595 dated 7 November 2013    

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Hariharan, BMICH was a gift from China over 40 years ago! Not a decade back. Your content does not seem to have validity when unreliable info is present. For Tamil Nadu folks and rest of India, TN is your problem. They WILL ask for secession for mono-ethnic, mono-religious, racist independent state, as it will NEVER happen in Sri Lanka. We will Never let it happen here in SL. So, all you people who perform violent and forceful acts in hope of having SL divided, please do it in Indian soil.

    If Sinhalese people are racists, how can millions of Tamils and Muslims live in the South near capital Colombo? One third of population in Colombo is Tamil, one third is Sinhalese and one third Muslim!!! There are streets and areas of Colombo monopolized by Tamil housing and businesses like Sea Street, Jampettah Street, Old Moor Street, Wellawatta, Kotahena, and many more? How come the unionized estate workers line in peace in the tea plantations? After Tamil Tigers slaughtered and murdered Sinhalese and Muslims in the North and East, all non-tamils were subjected to ethnic cleansing and drove them out further south through fear psychosis of death and destruction. Dollar & Kent Farms, Kebithigollawa, and all other areas of North!!!

    If anyone is interested, I found this link that shows Tamil Racist terrorist more ruthless than AlQaida as published by US, British, Canadian governments and international media as BBC, CNN, CBC, National Post, Times, etc:

    Mr. Manmohan Singh’s absence is his problem. Obviously TN votes are MORE important than puny Sri Lanka. Then he will live with the trade and political consequences of his decision. He clearly had a choice.

    Sri Lanka belongs to ALL that live there – Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay.. Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, an other denominations…. Sri Lanka being an independent state has its own constitution to safeguard its territorial integrity. India or TN cannot just cross IMB and steal our natural resources and get away with that. If you do cross, prepare to accept the penalties.

    As for Sri Lanka, Minister of Foreign affairs GL Peiris is a monkey and a donkey without backbone. We need someone like Honourable Lakshman Kadirgamar, the only Tamil other than Mr. Neelan Thiruchelvam who truly LOVED Sri Lanka as a multi-ethnic state.

    CHOGM will be over in 4 weeks.. But India’s strained relations with the neighbor to south will suffer setbacks for decades to come.

  • 0

    Strawberry Pukkai

    Stop talking rubbish. The current news item is as follows.



    What has Kathirgamar got to do with all this. Even as a Tamil ( Trapped in a Tamil Body with a Sinhalese soul) he wouldn’t have been able to bring Manmohan to the Table.

    Accept defeat and move on man. Weak man the servant went to invite the Master Manmohan but the Daughter Jeyalalitha said to dad. Dad it is a Gay Marriage an ILLEGITIMATE one and you cant go and the Dad complied with daughters orders.

    *******If Sinhalese people are racists, how can millions of Tamils and Muslims live in the South near capital Colombo? One third of population in Colombo is Tamil, one third is Sinhalese and one third Muslim!!!

    I am sure you are a clever individual and the reason for the above is because you never developed the North and we are totally dependant on your industries in the south for jobs.
    Do you know the North accounts for 5% of the Sri Lankan GDP.

    • 0


      The reason North could not be developed was that pig Pirapaharan destroyed everything over a span of 30 yrs, turning the region into a war. He abducted young Tamil children 10-16 yrs for child brigade army headed by that British traitor Adele Balasingham. TN kept war machines well oiled and funded for LTTE.. so much so that you killed you own Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. How peaceful folks in TN!!!

      Now the war is over, North is getting much funding for development. 30 yrs of LTTE destruction cannot be overturned to prosperity overnight.. it will take time. So far it is better than what Tamils have in TN. Any wonder economic refugees opt to get old boats and travel across oceans risking their lives to go to Australia or even further to Canada, than crossing 32 miles to migrate to TN!!! How many boats of SL refugees came to TN, looking for greener and better pastures?

      As I said, mind your own stench as you have no business in SL and will never have any biz with SL. Your paid crying folks’ sentiments are your problems. Not ours. Dr. Manmohan SIngh’s political reasons for refusing to come for CHOGM is his and India’s problems. They and India will pay for those emotional political decisions in the future.

      As for robbing Sri Lanka’s oceans and raping our ocean beds with trawling, any poacher will be jailed and your boats will be destroyed and sunk. Stay off SL. We don’t need you here.

    • 0

      Hon Lakshman Kadirgamar and Neelan Thiruchelvam were brilliant, highly educated and eloquent Tamil statesmen. Uneducated, violent-minded, stupid and short-sighted racist Tamils who could not appreciated these gentlemen’s noble efforts to peace killed both of them. Obviously, TN had a hand in it with Velupillai the murderer…

      Sri Lankan Tamils live in far better conditions than Tamils in TN do. come over and see for yourself. If you don’t see this while living in SL, you are obviously looking at Jayalalita-a’s behind.

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