29 November, 2023

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The China-Lanka Conundrum

By R Hariharan

Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

There was much consternation in India over the Chinese spy ship docking in Sri Lanka. India expressed its security concerns over berthing the ship at the Hambantota port. The truth is that symbolism triumphed over substance

The controversial visit of China’s “spy ship” Yuan Wang-5 to Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port from August 16 to 22 is perhaps Sri Lanka’s most commented news story, next only to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s escape in stealth from the island-nation a few weeks earlier. The reason is not far to seek; the research ship belongs to the PLA’s 5th branch – the Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) created in December 2015 to carry out space, cyber and electronic warfare. The ship is equipped with advanced electronic equipment, sensors and antennae to assist PLA’s land-based stations in tracking satellite, rocket and ICBM launches within a range of 750 km.

Sri Lanka’s foreign affairs originally allowed the vessel to dock in Hambantota from August 11 to 17. India expressed its security concerns over berthing the ship in Hambantota as soon as reports indicated that the ship was heading to the Sri Lankan port. The US also had expressed its security concerns. Perhaps in deference to India’s concerns, the ministry in a message to the Chinese embassy asked the visit be delayed until further consultations. The Chinese embassy clarified that the maritime research vessel’s visit was for replenishment and refuelling and did not pose a threat to any security or economic interests. It eventually succeeded in pressuring Sri Lanka’s defence ministry to allow the research vessel to berth in Hambantota port from August 16 to 22, after laying down conditions that it would switch off its tracking equipment.

The media pundits in India went to town with analyses of how the ship’s berthing in Hambantota would compromise the security of our naval bases and satellite launch sites and missile launches. The plain truth is Yuan Wang-5 is capable of carrying out all these actions even without docking in Hambantota port. Many analyses across global media had been cautioning the US of China overtaking it as a strategic power. These analyses were basically revisiting the bogey of China’s growing military prowess in the Indo-Pacific.

Social media castigated Sri Lanka for its “ungratefulness” to India, which had gone all out to lend a helping hand in times of Sri Lanka’s economic distress, unlike China. Some critics called it a violation of the Indo-Lanka Accord 1987, though the Accord has no specific clause forbidding the berthing of warships of other countries in Sri Lanka ports in peacetime. Moreover, Sri Lanka had been repeatedly reassuring India at various levels that it would not allow the use of its soil to pose a security threat to India.

The controversy over Yuan Wang-5’s visit is timed to draw attention away from growing India-Sri Lanka relations, which are on the apogee. Probably it is also aimed at reminding Sri Lanka that it cannot afford to ignore China’s interests, now embedded in the body politic of the island-nation. Moreover, for some time now, Sri Lanka is in talks with India at multiple levels to upgrade its transactional relations into a strategic relationship. These efforts have encouraged India to extend all out support to the people of Sri Lanka to meet their essential economic and energy requirements after the country went bankrupt. India’s support has continued, in spite of political uncertainties in the country after the unceremonious exit of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the ascent of Ranil Wickremesinghe as president.

It is worthwhile to examine the Yuan Wang-5 issue in the larger context of the strategic dynamics of the Indo-Pacific. Alfred North Whitehead, mathematician and process philosopher considers “symbolism as no mere idle fantasy or corrupt degeneration. It is inherent in the very texture of human life.” His words: “there is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have consequences for the world around us” have great relevance in understanding the substance behind China’s acts of symbolism.

India celebrated Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav—75 years of India’s independence—on August 15. On that day, the Xinjiang command conducted live-fire drills near the LAC with a “new type of surface-to-air missile” at an altitude of more than 4,500 metres (14,760 feet). A report in the South China Morning Post quoted military observers to say the weapons appeared to be HQ-17A air defence missiles, part of an integrated system that can fit in a single vehicle. Yuan Wang-5 steaming into Hambantota a day after India’s Independence Day is also symbolic of China enforcing its writ in Sri Lanka despite India’s security concerns.

More than all this, Yuan Wang-5 is a demonstration of PLASSF capability as part of China’s power projection in space and cyberspace. The SSF is also designed to coordinate intelligence sharing and operations in the informatized battlefields in real time. Informatization has been the mantra of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ever since PLA thinkers drew many lessons from their observations of the US Gulf War (1991) and Iraq War (2003). In their assessment, the US used effective coordinated employment of global media, international law, and other psychological warfare techniques. The use of these techniques collectively referred to as “three warfares” could enhance results as military operations became more and more dependent on information technology tools.

The concept of “three warfares” was incorporated in the PLA Political Work Regulations for future conflicts in 2003. This has resulted in increased coordination of civil and military organs of state since then to get the best results of “three warfares”.

The timing of the Yuan Wang-5 controversy is uncanny. On June 6, India successfully carried out the training launch of the intermediate range ballistic missile Agni-4 from APJ Abdul Kalam Island off Orissa under the aegis of the Strategic Forces Command. The visit of Yuan Wang-5 is perhaps China’s way of flaunting its capability to track India’s ICBM launches. A month later, PLA tested an advanced PHL Multiple Lau­nch Rocket System (MLRS) at an altitude of more than 5,300 metres in the Xinjiang Region.

India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar has been on a mission for some time to lay bare China’s double speak on matters related to India in many international forums. Only a month earlier, the 16th round of border talks between Corps Commanders of India and China ended in yet another stalemate. Last week in Bangkok, Jaishankar said the relationship between India and China is going through an “extremely difficult phase” after the Galwan incident in the Ladakh border in 2020. He emphasised that the Asian Century will not happen if the two neighbours could not join hands. “We very much hope that wisdom dawns on the Chinese side,” he said while replying to a question in Bangkok.

Now on a six-day tour of South America, Jaishankar said China has cast a shadow on bilateral ties by disregarding border pacts with India. He said the relationship cannot be a one-way street. “They are our neighbour and everybody wants to get along with their neighbour…But everybody wants to get along with their neighbour on reasonable terms. I must respect you and you must respect me,” he added. The EAM said “from our point of view, we’ve been very clear that if you have to build a relationship, then there has to be mutual respect. Each one will have their interests and we need to be sensitive to what the concerns are, of the other party.”

Sri Lanka is caught not only in the midst of muscle flexing between India and China in the Indian Ocean region, but it is also facing the flak of the strategic maelstrom blowing across the Indo-Pacific, after the visit of the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan on August 2. President Xi Jinping had spoken to POTUS Joe Biden, a month earlier to prevent the visit. According to media reports, President Biden not only told Xi that he “could not oblige” as the US Congress was an independent body, but also warned the Chinese president against taking any “provocative and coercive” actions if the visit took place. Pelosi’s visit may be considered a big loss of face for Xi, particularly when he is poised to be re-elected as the CCP General Secretary in the next few months. The invectives China has used to condemn the US and its allies on this issue show that the stand-off over Taiwan is likely to continue for some time. We can expect the spill over of the continuing US-China confrontation in the Indian Ocean region in the coming months. It is imperative that China’s symbolic acts are studied to gauge the substance behind them to understand its intentions.

*The writer is a retired military intelligence specialist on South Asia associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies

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Latest comments

  • 9
    2

    (Bow Wow) Beng Lim an official CGTV reporter posted on a web site during the Galvan Valley altercation that all indians are niggers. When questioned whether sri lankans are niggers he responded No not (same re africans but well documented cases of chinese in Africa racism towards africans) . Also news reports that chinese diplomats in sinhala land who by law have to be atheists and subscribe to the CLP view that humans are mere intelligent machines HUMBUG attendance at temples and pay homage to the saffron robed rogues { suppose it takes a bigger rogue to know another rogue] This commentary is to note that beneath the niceties the chinese view that the sinhalas are merely to be exploited for emasculating india and it seems that india by ensuring the survival of the sinhalas by the 4.5 billion plus USD and continuing aid and more is merely cutting its own throat!

    • 6
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      Chichi or Bitchi. the youngest of the Medamulana Buffaloe… .. how has he earned that millions of rupees ?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zPOn1b9ObI

      May all gods be with those who make every effort to get rid of this country from these bastards.

  • 1
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    The China-Lanka Conundrum

    China will gauge Sri lanka to get reading that Sri lanka with us without us time to time.Sri lanka must install Traffic light red yellow green how to deal in this case there must intelligent young parlimentarian to face, Is present parlimentarian let the country to to sitiation deal with Indian and China Tactically. great things in are never done by one person. ( Past President ) They’re done by a team of people. The presen President is president paying the no game of parlimentarian to fix his president stable making the capital mistake to theorize before one has data for uplift of the country.

    • 0
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      I doubt if China is impressed by the Sri Lankan government’s conduct of Sino-Lankan relations in the past few years.
      A lot of repair is needed to restore trust.

  • 7
    6

    Our Paraiah Demelo Dr. Jaishankar said in Thailand that he cannot discuss Indian politics in Thailand, so the Tamil man who asked him questions should go to India to ask question about India. But he answered all questions about India in that same press meeting. That is the behavior of all Demulo Pariahs including out Kornal. In Chennai air port if you speak in Tamil. PM Modi’s gang will kick on the butt and put you back on the same plane and send you back to the country you arrived from. The joke is even Tamil Nadu street beggars put contribution to the comedian politician Karunanidhi’s son’s hat collection to send for Tamils who were left out by Aanduwa during the latest Langkang’s. But Mr. Modi twisted Paraiah Demelo Jeysankar’s ears had that contributions delivered at Gothapayal’s home. When Gothapayal, the runaway Bride groom eluped

  • 7
    2

    When Gothapayal, the runaway Bride groom eloped to Singapore with his bride, Dr.Jeysankar’s Boss Ambassador Bag Lay told TNA to vote for Valaththodam, not to the Evil. But our Pariah Demulo Dr. Jeysankar is not ready to talk about India in Thailand. Is that because the bosses can do anything but not the Demulo Pariahs? Interestingly, Dr. Jeysankar said that to bring aa Asian Era, India has to make friendship with China. In that course if India lose Langland & the $3B they donated to Langkang is lost, it doesn’t matter. I don’t get this; what does that mean? Our new EP Evil is tough guy (Mathaya Harima tough) in the eyes of Ambassador Bag Lay and his assistant?

  • 9
    0

    The essence of the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement in 1987 was basically federalism and granting of just Thamizh rights for the island’s indigenous Eezham Thamizh by linking and uniting their ancient historical homelands in the north and east of the island into one unit and then granting self-rule there with land and police rights. However, this has not been honoured at all by all Chingkalla-led governments since 1987, especially the Rajalakses who deliberately dismantled this, with Indian help, especially after the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009. Mahinda appeared on many western TV stations and promised more devolution to the island’s Thamizh than sec 13A, like all Chingkalla leaders, never kept the promise.

    • 9
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      This does not bother these Indian critics, and the authorities, who until now were overtly and covertly helping the Chingkallams to marginalize the Thamizh and dismantle sec 13A. Now shouting about the 1987 agreement, as China has crept in but did not care two hoots when the essence of the 1987 agreement to grant Thamizh self-rule and federal rights in their lands was not honoured and they were marginalized. In fact, were very happy that this was happening to the Thamizh, as they thought they can win over the Chingkallams by helping them to dishonour an agreement, that India was the architect ( strange) and marginalise the Thamizh. If the 1987 agreement was honoured and Thamizh’s self-rule in the northeast unit was granted all of this would not have happened. The Rajapakses and Chingkalla Buddhist Chauvinism/racism and China would have been contained. Damn good for the Indians, they backstabbed the Eezham Thamiz to curry favour with the Chingkallams and see what has happened, even now only interested in the security aspect of the 1987 agreement but not the essence federalism and just Thamizh rights

  • 8
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    “The plain truth is Yuan Wang-5 is capable of carrying out all these actions even without docking in Hambantota port.”
    An unusually candid opinion from a patriotic Indian. It could hang around, perfectly legally, 200 miles from Visakhapatnam for example.

    • 4
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      OC
      China has a powerful satellite network and it could gather the information without recourse to any spy ship.
      India was not really worried. It gained by making a fuss. Adanai has got the projected that he nearly lost earlier.

    • 0
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      The visit of the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan on August 2 and visit of China’s “spy ship” Yuan Wang-5 to Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port from August 16 to 22 have interesting parallels. Both are symbolic, not to do with military intelligence , but had given messages to to the respective e countries to be beware!

  • 9
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    These are observation and not opinion. 1) Shavendra was bestowed with the honorary title “MahamanysaPrathapadi- Keshwara” by Asgiri. See (pictures in DM ) who and all accompanied our Mahamanya to Asgiri. 2) Since Pelosi’s visit , few congress law makers have visited Taiwan. It’s time we may soon see Biden or Kamala there. 3) Only by next year, IMF rescue package will be available to us. Not what LJ told us, “Gotha was about to receive and Aragalaya prevented it”. 4) More than one trillion worth China funds were to be suspended from US market listing because of audit noncompliance. A last minute deal was made to avoid such disaster by making them available through HK market which has an acceptable auditing process in place 4) We heard plenty about US and Europe’s economic woes due to Ukraine crisis and potential global recession. But we haven’t heard much about Billions wiped out of China’s Railways ( bullet train project), airways and real estate sectors.(many to follow NOGrande ) The total debt/loss from these sectors alone estimated , more than a TRILLION.

    • 2
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      Please tell us what you heard (I hope that your source is not Gravitas?) about the cause of the economic woes of Europe and US. (Unlike for Europe, not a fraction of the pain of the US is owing to sanctions on Russia.)

      • 8
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        Why don’t you tell us about China’s economy instead of Europe and US which is freely available. ?? According to Nikkei Asia “China’s debt bomb looks ready to explode and many warning signs suggest debt reckoning is imminent”. According to China’s real estate sector, 50 MILLION unfinished or empty units bought on speculation in hundreds of urban areas will never be completed. China’s loans to BRI is more than one TRILLION to struggling govt like us, around the world that cannot afford to pay. This year’s China’s debt is expected to reach 275 % of it’s GDP in comparison to USA’s 98 %. In rare act of defiance massive “boycott mortgage” movement , (refusing to pay) began this July and has now spread to more than 100 cities, involving 320 massive property development projects and many banks. Recently China’s politburo offered a paltry amount of 44 BILLION to prop up real estate giants like NOgrande and banks assuring property buyers of completing projects. But millions of buyers need financial assistance or else they will be left in the lurch.

        • 4
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          China’s real estate is similar to India where buyers pay mortgage in advance before the project start.(only way of buying an apartment). Banks are supposed to monitor the progress before releasing the money/ loans , in installment to developer. When both connive the developer misuses the capital (by diverting, getting more loans, corruption) . Now there are millions of buyers paying mortgage for 2 to 3 years without even a stone laid and the developer is bankrupt leaving them in the lurch. The initial payments made go towards interest and the buyer gets nothing in return.

        • 1
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          “Why don’t you tell us about China’s economy instead of Europe and US which is freely available.”
          Sorry I am no disk jockey that does listeners’ requests.
          I refer to pertinent matters. That is all.
          *
          There is plenty of objective data available and accessible on China, but not in the mainstream media. An intelligent reader draws fair conclusions by checking, cross checking and comparing with reality.
          If that is asking for too much from you, how can any deny your the right to listen to disinformation?

          • 4
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            Then provide just a few ( out of plenty) objective data available on China ,not in the mainstream media, but only to you and Chinese politburo ( fake news) to disapprove their current economic woes. If needed I can provide more data on China’s Trillions dollar debt. ( some coming out of China)

          • 0
            0

            If not disk jockey then what are you dick jockey??? How can anyone deny your right to be the the official Chinese ball carrier.

        • 4
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          chiv

          Forget the lonely Sinophile (or Mao’s b***s Carrier), there aren’t many left in this world. Even Deng Xiaoping thought these were a dying breed.

          An important development you not only should watch but tell us how to stop the spread of these outside western provinces:
          Crisis In Sri Lanka Deepens, Rise In Makeshift Brothels In Island Nation | English News
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S66qbkun3rg

          The danger is these brothels could attract women and children from urban and rural areas.

          • 0
            0

            Native, on that matter ( rise in makeshift brothel houses) dont you think SJ is better equipped with objective data, available and accessible, not in the mainstream media but only to him.

          • 3
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            Bert

            I am told in the 1980s and 1990s American Economy was thought to be the driver of world economy. We know what happened.

  • 6
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    1/
    There is not only the Sino-Lankan conundrum but also an India-Lankan conundrum. It is the Rajapaksa bastards who are causing these difficulties. Stupid people made this with the media mafia that controls this country.
    It seems that they are abusing their powers by leasing the Hambantota port to the Chinese. Afraid of anything. They behave as if their 5 senses are completely impaired. The Rajapaksa rascals misled this nation because they wanted to be seen above the country, which means they called the gallery to preserve their political existence. Alas, the consequences are before us today. As a result, we now have a parliament full of reptiles, a representation that is not loyal to the people. I think that as long as there are reptiles in Parliament, everyone including the newly elected President will not be able to move forward an inch. Even for small reforms the President has to rely on them. The President has become their number one prisoner.
    The situation is more dire than it seems. SriLankan Airlines ran on its own due to the outcry of the Rajapaksas, who strongly opposed the merger of SriLankan Airlines with Emirates, and incurred huge losses that the government could not bear. That merger, of course, made CBK a great profit in the government and made it a good and profitable partnership.

    tbc

    • 5
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      2/It is now reported to be the heaviest burden faced by any government that came to power after running SriLankan Airlines on its own. Even today, Sri Lankan media is afraid to tell the truth about this to the nation because Sri Lankan media is completely controlled by Rajapaksa’s hidden mafia-style paparazzi. The MEDIA itself depends only on the ratings of the people and the truth does not go to the nation due to various reasons. Nor does it seem that people’s sense of compromise is going away. The situation is getting worse day by day.

      But all this happened because of the lack of professionalism in Rajapaksa’s head. Kissing the by-roll field grounds and sending a cultural message to the nation was according to their “script”.
      That shortcoming was never rectified because the Rajapaksas could not part with the so-called “Buddhist monk forces”. Sinhala Buddhist monks focus on their place in society despite their weapons of violence.

      Rajapaksa honestly did not expect to do anything for the people of this country.. After the long civil war, fake news was created about them. For example, Gotabhaya proved to the nation that he was fit to be a civil servant but not beyond that.

  • 10
    1

    One of my favourite past times is to watch youtube on srfilanka and one of the pleasurable moments was a youtube of a bunch of sinhala women and a sinhala woman politician screaming outside Gota’s official residence “PARIAH” Gota. This is acknowledgement that the Rajapakses have made the sinhalas a ‘pariah’ coolies for export.

  • 3
    0

    chiv

    Forget the lonely Sinophile (or Mao’s b***s Carrier), there aren’t many left in this world. Even Deng Xiaoping thought these were a dying breed.

    An important development you not only should watch but tell us how to stop the spread of these outside western provinces:
    Crisis In Sri Lanka Deepens, Rise In Makeshift Brothels In Island Nation | English News
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S66qbkun3rg

    The danger is these brothels could attract women and children from urban and rural areas.
    Does Maos’ little red book have any advice?

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