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India Wrestles Back Maldives From China; But Who Will Win Sri-Lanka? Analysis

India and China have been competing for influence in the Maldives, Sri-Lanka and other Asian nations. Even though China did manage to temporarily dislodge India from the Maldives, New Delhi, however, wrestled back the island nation into its sphere of influence. Now India and China are competing over Sri-Lanka, another island nation which has been traditionally considered a key Indian ally. 

Historically, Sri Lanka has always been a close ally of India but that has changed, as Beijing pledged billions of dollars in re-building projects often termed by the west as debt-trap. The example of Sri-Lanka is widely cited as a precaution of the Chinese debt-trap, as Colombo had to hand over a strategic port to Beijing as they were unable to repay the massive Chinese loans.

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Presently, Sri Lanka has been plunged into a constitutional crisis with two leaders claiming to be the Prime Minister, one who is regarded as pro-India and the other as pro-China. The Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, last month, took everyone by surprise when he sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was seen as leaning towards India and trying to move his country away from China.

President Sirisena declared Mahinda Rajapaksa as the new Prime Minister of Sri-Lanka and removing pro-India Wickremesinghe. Rajapaksa was the PM of Sri Lanka for a decade from 2005 to 2015 and it was during his tenure that China invested heavily into the island nation and took over the strategic port.

Experts that EurAsian Times talked to debate that both India and China are competing for influence in the South Asian region. “India has had a very close connection with the Maldives and whenever there was any crisis in the country, India has been the first country to assist. Both the people-to-people contact and Government-Government contact between two nations has been excellent. China money can never substantiate for Indian trust.

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What makes it necessary for both India and China is to have their influence over countries like Sri Lanka and the Maldives is that despite their small size, these nations sit on key oil and trade routes that connect Asia to the Middle East and Europe. The control over the strategic ports will decide which nation gets to dominate the seas and control trade, something both India and China are keen on.

Experts agree that India cannot compete with China on a dollar to dollar basis, it is the quality of partnerships that India has with most neighbours that makes the difference. Sri-Lanka has already tasted Chinese debt-trap policy by handing over the strategic Hambantota port to China and installing pro-China Rajapaksa as the PM might only end up endangering the nation.

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