21 April, 2024

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Wickremesinghe Is Caught Between A Rock & A Hard Place

By R Hariharan

Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

President Ranil Wickremesinghe is caught between a rock and a hard place, both externally and internally. Externally, t[he Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is getting turbulent with the big power confrontation between the US and its allies on the one hand, and China on the other. It threatens to spill over beyond Asia-Pacific. The sparring between the two global powers is turning bitter every day around Taiwan and accidental triggering of skirmish cannot be ruled out.

The four-nation ‘Quad’ – quadrilateral framework of India-the US-Japan-Australia, apparently a non-military alliance, is gaining relevance. It is ushering in close cooperation in manufacturing, logistics and political issues, that will strengthen their military posture. The AUKUS – Australia-US – military alliance is poised to introduce the nuclear triad in the Indo-Pacific theatre. The most unlikely trilateral alliance of the US-Japan- South Korea has come into being; it is unabashedly against China and its protégé North Korea, flaunting their military strength in their vicinity.

Chinese economy is five times larger, with a GDP of $17.7 trillion versus India’s GDP of $3.5 trillion China’s economy that went down in the wake of President Xi Jinping’s mishandling of the lock downs during the Covid pandemic disrupting the supply chains is yet to recover. The economic fall out of the Ukraine war has made it worse. The Chinese Yuan has fallen to its lowest level in 16 years.

On the other hand, India’s economy is growing at 6.5 percent. Under these circumstances, China’s first option will be to expand its trade in South Asia, particularly with India despite its soured relations. Their two-way trade has grown to a whopping $130 billion in 2022. China’s second priority will be to resuscitate President Xi’s prestigious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects that have become a drag on the Chinese economy, particularly in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. By September 2023, BRI will be celebrating its tenth anniversary and we can expect a slew of Chinese initiatives to ensure the success of ailing BRI projects.

India, the dominant regional power, is poised to strengthen its all-round relations with the US, particularly after President Joe Baiden visits New Delhi in September to attend the G20 summit meet. The latest 19th round of talks between Indian and Chinese military commanders in Eastern Ladakh over China’s border transgressions has achieved little progress. China’s speedy construction of military infrastructure in the area shows the border problem is in for a long haul. China’s latest cartographic aggression by publishing maps showing Indian territory of Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh as Chinese territory only confirms this.

After the Galwan clash in May 2020, India has shown it is determined not to allow China a free run in its neighbourhood, particularly in Sri Lanka and Maldives. India’s overtures to help Sri Lanka recover from bankruptcy, have been reciprocated and the relations between the two are closer than ever before.

China will be factoring these developments in analysing President Wickremesinghe’s bid to deepen strategic relations with India to strengthen Sri Lanka’s economy. China probably understands President Wickremesinghe cannot wish away the helping hand extended by India when Sri Lanka is in dire straits. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, during his tenure, unsuccessfully tried to do so with little success. Besides, President Wickremesinghe needs India’s continued assistance for economic recovery, particularly after China has not helped it to conform to IMF conditions.

During President Wickremesinghe’s two-day visit to New Delhi last month. India and Sri Lanka agreed upon an economic partnership vision to speed up Sri Lanka’s economic recovery. The vision document’s title “Promoting Connectivity, Catalysing Prosperity: India-Sri Lanka Economic Partnership Vision” contains the key elements of the partnership. The plan is to strengthen the maritime, air, energy and people-to-people connectivity between the two countries. They have signed six energy agreements, including an oil pipeline from India to Sri Lanka, electricity grid connectivity and cooperation on renewable energy.

India’s decision to allow the use of Indian rupee for trade settlement between the two countries and allowing the use of UPI based digital payment system is likely to boost trade and tourism. Already there are signs of progress in tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka and we can expect it to grow exponentially when ferry services and air connectivity are beefed up.

With South India becoming an industrial and IT hub, a multipurpose infrastructure link with Sri Lanka would bring a sea change in economic growth of the island nation. With Tamil Nadu becoming the heartland of automobile industry and IT manufacture, such a link would particularly benefit the Northern and Eastern provinces.

A land bridge connecting India and Sri Lanka across the Palk Strait is one of the ideas mooted in the wake of the joint vision statement. Actually, it is not a new idea; it was proposed in 2004 by the then PM Ranil Wickremesinghe. He sought India’s help to build the “Hanuman Bridge”. The proposal for a 23 km long Palk Strait Bridge met with intense opposition in Sri Lanka. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms Jayalalithaa was also opposed to the idea on security considerations.

According to Indian Express, in 2015, India’s transport minister Nitin Gadkari proposed to build the ‘Hanuman bridge’. The bridge was proposed to be built with the aid of the Asian Development Bank as a part of the trans Asian road network. However, it was shot down by Sri Lanka’s minister for highways Lakshman Kiriella. He said “We are against it because people of Sri Lanka are opposed to it. We cannot let India build a bridge.” As Sri Lanka had joined the BRI just then, apparently Sri Lanka did not want to upset China

It will not be easy for the President to politically sell the idea of a land bridge with India, particularly when his tenure depends upon the support of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) with its strong Sinhala nationalist moorings. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and its cohorts would jump at the proposal and use anti-India rhetoric to rally the people for yet another Aragalaya movement to “topple” the President. It is surprising that even a non- political personality like Colombo Archbishop Malcom Cardinal Ranjith has recently opposed the land bridge proposal from the pulpit.

And of course, China carefully watching India’s moves in Sri Lanka will not be amused; it will muscle-in both overtly and covertly to discourage the President from considering the land bridge project. Already, China is smarting under Sri Lanka discarding a few sanctioned proposals of Chinese companies and opting for India to execute them. China specializes in ‘grey zone warfare’. We can expect in the coming months Sri Lanka becoming the target of China’s propaganda blitz using overt and covert means to discourage, if not disrupt, closer Sri Lanka-India relations. Overall, the President is in an unviable hot seat, likely to get hotter.

*Col R Hariharan, a retired MI specialist on South Asia and terrorism, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies. Email: haridirect@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 6
    5

    What is the status of Rajnath Singh’s visit to Sri Lanka? The Madurai court judgment appears to have confused everything. Congress or DMK are silent on Rajnath Singh’s visit to Sri Lanka? The silence of the two parties also raises many question marks. By postponing the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to Sri Lanka, New Delhi may have sent a subtle message of its displeasure to Sri Lanka, an Indian media outlet said. It also noted that the decision was made to express its displeasure to Colombo for allowing a Chinese ship to enter the country’s territorial waters. In this situation, the Indian side did not disclose the reasons for the postponement of Rajnath Singh’s trip. India’s Ministry of Defense has just stated that due to unavoidable circumstances, the trip has been postponed. Has Ranil Wickremasinghe caught between a rock & hard place. Now there is a statue of Lord Hanuman 108 feet in height, being built in Rameswaran over looking Sri Lanka, which has sent signal of the bridge that will be constructed between Rameswaram or Thanuskodi & Thalaimannar and will help President Wickremesinghe’s bid to deepen strategic relations with India to strengthen Sri Lanka’s economy.

    • 11
      1

      “It is surprising that even a non- political personality like Colombo Archbishop Malcom Cardinal Ranjith has recently opposed the land bridge proposal from the pulpit.”
      Calling this hypocrite non-political is a travesty. He was appointed with Rajapaksa influence, doesn’t criticise them in public, though he freely dispenses unsolicited advice to other politicians.
      The Indians are being overly paranoid over the Chinese ship. Whatever spying it is said to be doing from Hambantota can quite legally and more easily be done in the sea 200 miles away from Visakhapatnam.
      However, it is in Sri Lanka’s interest to forge closer economic ties with India, bridges included. There is no doubt that even TN will be an economic powerhouse soon. We should be ready to claim a share of the cake. Even crumbs off the table are valuable in our bankrupt state. The Chinese won’t object. After all, their primary trade partner is South Asia is India, not Sri Lanka.

      • 5
        3

        oc
        “The Indians are being overly paranoid over the Chinese ship.”
        They are not at all paranoid. It is a ploy to push SL to make concessions on matters that really matter.
        .

      • 6
        0

        old codger

        “Whatever spying it is said to be doing from Hambantota can quite legally and more easily be done in the sea 200 miles away from Visakhapatnam.”

        I do not think Hindians are that stupid, though they both play childish game as opposed to Alfred Thayer Mahan’s great game in Indian ocean.
        Chinese say Indian ocean is not India’s ocean while they claim the entire South China sea belongs to them and them only, including Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines ……….. and most [arts of India.

        India is focused only on symbols such as newly redrawn maps while the peace/piece loving China is interested in real estates, Aksai Chin of Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, Limpiyadhura, Kalapani, Lipulekh, Tamil because the ancient Chinese traded with Tamils, Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, Bolshoi Ussuriysky Island from Russia, Tibet, Vietnam, ……………….. recently Chinese Ambassador to Gene addressing the Council said Sri Lanka as his neighbour.

        When did Sri Lanka become China’s neigbour?
        Sri Lankan ambassador did not protest.

        I thought yesterday’s Editorial of Daily Mirror (04 09 2023) was bit interesting while hypocritical, the leader writer clearly expressed where his loyalty lies.

        Sad but true Sri Lanka has to learn a lot.

        • 4
          0

          Native,
          “I do not think Hindians are that stupid,…..”
          So nice to see you agree with SJ today 😁😁

          • 4
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            old codger

            “So nice to see you agree with SJ today”

            Then I must be wrong, my apologies.

            • 1
              1

              Native,
              “Then I must be wrong, my apologies.”
              That’s even better. You’re saying SJ is right?

            • 1
              4

              Even otherwise, you are mostly wrong.
              So do not apologise for being consistent.

          • 1
            3

            oc
            That is naughty of you.
            He cannot sleep well for weeks now.

            • 3
              0

              Rajash

              When you visit Thailand next time take this Teenager with you.
              He needs fun.

        • 0
          1

          NV
          Hindians are not stupid. They know that +50% of Tamils (Tamil speaking people) live outside NE.

          Soma

          • 0
            1

            …and Tamils compose of Hindus, Islamists and Christmas.

            • 3
              0

              soma

              ” ……and Tamils compose of Hindus, Islamists and Christmas.”

              So?
              Sri Lankan Tamils, Thamilnadu Tamils, .. and Sinhala Speaking Demelas, Sinhalese …. share the same genes.

              You find Tamil and Sinhala speaking people among Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, … So what is the problem?
              However I am different, don’t lump me into these stupid groups, I belong to first nation.

          • 3
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            soma

            Did I tell you the exact part the Hindian would want to annex?

            “They know that +50% of Tamils (Tamil speaking people) live outside NE.”

            You are talking nonsense.
            As far as Hindians are concerned the entire island is the Sinhala state of Hindia. Does it matter to Hindians whether the Tamil speakers live outside North East, or upcountry or South.
            Many many moons ago Hindians announced that they would Socially Engineer the future of this island.

            You may see your great grand children speaking English and Hindi (or improvised Sanskrit). They may have to sit for NEET exams to enter Uni.
            (NEET is a national-level entrance examination conducted in India for admission to undergraduate medical and dental courses (MBBS/BDS) in government and private medical colleges across the country.)

            Face the reality..
            For instance why did Indra Gandhi agree to let Sri Lanka have Kachtive?
            Does it matter whether Kachtive remains with Sri Lanka or Hindia, as long as the entire Sri Lanka belongs to Hindia.

            Why don’t you make an effort to grow up?
            You are mimicking the other teenager, SJ.

      • 4
        0

        Col. Hariharan,
        My sincere and unremitting Apologies, for this unforeseen, nevertheless Important intervention!
        “It is surprising that even a NON- POLITICAL personality like Colombo Archbishop Malcom Cardinal Ranjith has recently opposed the land bridge proposal from the pulpit.”
        Would I have been or Not!!!???
        CARDINAL!!?? Oh!? CARDINAL!!??
        If not for MaRa and S accompanying me to the Palace in Rome, to calcify (if I may use that terminology) the well accomplished and considered thoughts of the Apostolic Holy see!!!???
        what would you call the relationship of person elevated by another’s’ Lament of void of Vacancy of Cardinal in Colombo and Recommendations for the Post accompanying personae!!!???
        ACCOMPLICE, AIDE-DE-CAMP (ADC), ENABLER???
        Aiding or misdirecting the flock, is non-political and act of Saviour!!!??? Sacrilege!!!
        Other suggestions are welcome!!!???

        • 0
          0

          Mahila, Colonel is obviously confused because many such personalities are masquerading as “non political” in his own country. I just returned after a short visit in Lanka. Had the opportunity to visit the greatest non functional airport Mattala. ( have to see to believe). I also met a few naive Lankans who questioned why would Muslims die for Rajapaksas. To me it was obvious Easter was an inside job. ( I was there , just a day or two before massacre ) . Politician Ranjith too seems to be aware . He too is caught between a rock and hard place”. Ranil says people who are accused should reply and not the govt ?? Sarath is very sure it’s yet another Sally mission. Siri Lanka , like no other.

    • 10
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      Hari

      “Wickremesinghe Is Caught Between A Rock & A Hard Place”

      Let us forget Ranil for a second.
      If I were Modi, I would pay off all Sri Lanka’s external and internal debts (including the total amount owed to China) and then pay the people of Sri Lanka their asking price for the entire island, including Kachchative, …… sale price is equally divided by number of people living in Sri Lanka, its similar to dividend paid to shareholders, into their bank account ….

      • 1
        4

        Not so loud.
        Whisper it in RW’s ears.
        Tamil nationalists will be delighted though.

    • 4
      0

      Hari

      What is the big idea behind proposed name change from India to Bharat?
      What does Bharat mean?
      Who manufactured the name Bharat and when?

    • 1
      0

      If India did not destroy LTTE the need to worry about China wouldn’t have arisen.

  • 5
    0

    Col R Hariharan,
    I notice some contestable assumptions.
    * the big power confrontation between the US and its allies on the one hand, and China on the other.
    Economically, you yourself are now doubling. China has grown economically ; It could recover anytime. Militarily? It is yet to be tested.
    .
    * India’s overtures to help Sri Lanka recover from bankruptcy, have been reciprocated and the relations between the two are closer than ever before.
    The proclivity is suspect. Depends on who is in power in Sri Lanka.

    • 0
      0

      doubting (not doubling)

  • 6
    1

    Dear Readers,

    I think incumbent president knew it was like “being between Scylla and Charybdis”, however, he risked it. I don’t believe a word from “Sinhala_man” or such educated fools. HE HAS A BIGGER EGO akin to that of DAYAN JAYATHILAKA, however, he does not seem to know the abc of srilanken mlechcha politics. Old codger and few others are always right about ” stupid sinhala man”.
    .
    Long before Gotabaya was driven out of the country, RW and CBK had asked Harin and several other young politicians to wait for the inevitable collapse of Gota’s government. That is because some leaders including these two clearly saw it beforehand. I actually thought it would be a state similar to Tahiti after November 2019.
    When the 52-day government came (October 2018), Indians criticized that the problem in Sri Lanka was related to both civilized and uncivilized groups.

  • 6
    1

    cont.
    .
    Civilized styles are supported by RW (although the numbers are much less) and the uncivilized and vulgar are supported by Mahinda Rajapaksa. It means that they drew a clear line between the two groups, however, this is not yet clear or understood by those living in Sri Lanka.?????????
    At the same time, we clearly know by now that the majority of people in this country are uncivilized. Please listen to what some buddhist priests (not common ones) have got to say about the people.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hG3LXqxHBdo

    I think that no matter how many critics there are, RW has done a good job for the poor people of this country even if he quits politics after next year. Our people are ungrateful human beasts. ********They forget everything that Rajapaksa did to this nation******************. And educated fools like Sinhala Man have the balls to call RW cruel but not a single word was allowed from the man’s lips when he killed and turned the whole of Sri Lanka upside down.
    No matter what anyone said or did about him, no one was willing to sacrifice his job in that situation.

    • 3
      0

      I meant “when Rajapakses killed and turned the whole of Sri Lanka upside down.”

  • 2
    0

    Col. Hariharan,
    My sincere and unremitting Apologies, for this unforeseen, nevertheless Important intervention!
    “It is surprising that even a NON- POLITICAL personality like Colombo Archbishop Malcom Cardinal Ranjith has recently opposed the land bridge proposal from the pulpit.”
    Would I have been or Not!!!???
    CARDINAL!!?? Oh!? CARDINAL!!??
    If not for MaRa and S accompanying me to the Palace in Rome, to calcify (if I may use that terminology) the well accomplished and considered thoughts of the Apostolic Holy see!!!???
    what would you call the relationship of person elevated by another’s’ Lament of void of Vacancy of Cardinal in Colombo and Recommendations for the Post accompanying personae!!!???
    ACCOMPLICE, AIDE-DE-CAMP (ADC), ENABLER???
    Aiding or misdirecting the flock, is non-political and act of Saviour!!!??? Sacrilege!!!
    Other suggestions are welcome!!!???

  • 8
    0

    Colonel Hari Harian the so-called Cardinal is definitely not non-political, in my opinion, a Rajapakse stooge, who openly supported the Chingkalla racist hardliner Gothabaya and the Rajapakses during the last election. His current position is thanks to the Rajapakses, who requested the Vatical to appoint him as a Cardinal, as he was their man. He openly espouses and preaches Chingkalla Catholicism, and on many occasions has hardly shown concern for his fellow Thamizh Catholics and their plight. He even told the UN and the Vatican nothing happened to the Thamizh in May 2009, that now even your BJP government has now openly admitted was a carnage where thousands of innocent Thamizh civilians were deliberately killed and the former Congress government was behind this carnage and war crime. He called Thamizh traitors, for asking the UN to interfere and hold an inquiry about this war crime, where thousands of his own fellow Catholics were deliberately killed but did not care as they were Thamizh.

    • 6
      0

      However, now dancing up and down and want the very same UN to intervene as a few Chingkalla Catholics were killed at the hands of so-called Islamic extremists, where most of the victims were still Thamizh Catholics. He is cosy and in bed with extremist Chingkalla Buddhist monks. One lot preaching Chingkalla Buddhism and he now preaching Chingkalla Catholicism. He does not want a referendum in the NE area, to decide on self-rule but wants a referendum, with regards to the bridge, again pandering to Chingkalla’s insecurities and fears. Ironically he hails from the North West Chilaw/Negombo/Puttalam coast was Thamizh and Thamizh speaking a generation or two ago and was once part of the Thamizh Jaffna kingdom. Even now many along this coast still have maintained their ancient Thamizh identity but over 90% of them have now converted to the Chingkalla identity. When you visit these areas you still get the feeling these areas were very recently Thamizh. The people the place names etc. It is because of the behaviour of Chingkalla Catholic clergy like him, that many Thamizh Catholic Bishops, priests and congregations in the north and east now have petitioned for a separate diocese for Thamizh areas, completely independent from the power or rule from Colombo.

  • 2
    0

    Quick, China….pay off Lankans debts and loans!

    Btw, if we are going to do the South Indian IT thing, won’t everybody learning Tamil will be more conducive? (but our Ranil thinks he knows how to delve into the minds of the Sinhala supremacists with the learning Hindi drive, LOL…won’t work!). Land Bridge won’t be necessary for the IT drive.

  • 3
    0

    “Externally, t[he Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is getting turbulent with the big power confrontation between the US and its allies on the one hand, and China on the other. “
    The fact is that Sri Lanka is turbulent with the confrontation of China, India and US. Internally, Sri lanka is turbulent with the confrontation of big Sinhala families of Rajapaksa and Ranil. Both internal factors and external factors kept Sri Lanka as a turbulent country and they make sure that economy is just in the border of under develop.

  • 0
    0

    Wickremesinghe Is Caught Between A Rock & A Hard Place

    He has been the leader for six time and on his half way of his leader ship, Wickremesinghe Is Caught between a Rock & a Hard Place, this why people did not bring back, his Words does not build bridges into unexplored regions, but walls

  • 2
    1

    Ranil W’s ROCK & HARD PLACE= Corrupted politicians & Buddhists Fundamentalists in Clergy + lay Singhalese
    He needs to CONTROL them in order to save the country.
    STOP the Armed forces and monks building Viharas in North and East where there are only few buddhists. Tamils too were practising Buddhism in the past. I am SURE that they did not practice it the way current SL buddhists.
    It is time for Ranil W to dissociate from Rajapaksas & ‘thuggish’ monks AND be with the
    people who aspire SYSTEM [Cultural, political] CHANGE.

  • 2
    0

    With the India/USA vs. China battle in the Indian Ocean plus the latest Channel 4 disclosure of the Eater Attack Ranil has met his Waterloo. This is the time Ranil should show his political shrewdness.

    In my opinion, there is a simple solution for the Easter attack investigation. Since foreigners also died in the attack, Ranil can seek the help of the Criminal Investigation Units in those foreign countries to join hands with a carefully selected CID group in Sri Lanka and conduct an independent inquiry. To add credibility to this international independent investigation, Shani could be included as an investigator representing the public interest.

    This would bring out the truth and also give credibility to the investigation.

  • 0
    0

    This is a real hell and majortiy of them are real criminals.

    social media has become the only occupation of the artists and media fraudsters after winning their publicity in their earlier days to stand out in today’s society.
    Sudaththa Thilakasiri is one of them, has made his current job a number of youtuber of the stupid people. rEMEMBER guys, thi sman has never uttered a single workd against TM jayaratne and other senior artists and their ill performance of supporting that ” FAKE DR Wiraja Damugala”. ???????????????????
    This man was long time, supporter of MAHARAJA et al,, like for a period of 20 years or longer, however today, having no other sources to grab his funds, what he has been doinng is nothing but ” selling the grief of people for his own money gains”. That prostitute style woman, who was alleged to have paved a platform local high money launderers to become her customers, Thilinna Priyamali is on the focus of YOUTUBER Sudaththa, giving her chance to clear the stains. This country is a real hell, it can turn out ot be a good country again, if these media fraudsters and artists would be punished by divine forces.xx

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