Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrapped up his five-day visit to three Indian Ocean island nations of Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka Sunday. Modi’s visit came after Sri Lanka’s new government announced the decision to suspend China’s port project of $1.4 billion that broke ground in September. Therefore, many overseas media outlets reckoned that Modi travelled to these island countries mainly to counterbalance China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean.
Regardless of the nationalist prime minister’s objective, recent incidents are sufficient to merit Beijing’s attention. China should follow closely the reactions of both regional powers and small states when promoting its “One Belt and One Road” initiative, which refers to the Silk Road economic belt and the 21st century maritime Silk Road.
India has myriad historical and cultural links with Indian Ocean island nations. New Delhi also has the ambition of playing a leading role in the region.
Over the past decades, few Indian leaders have visited these nations and Modi is the first prime minister to embark on a Sri Lanka trip in 28 years. New Delhi has obviously ramped up its efforts to deepen diplomatic ties with these island countries recently, which reflects that India now boasts a strong sense of sphere of influence. South Asia and the Indian Ocean are viewed as India’s territory, where other countries cannot get involved.
The “One Belt and One Road” initiative envisioned by Chinese President Xi Jinping aims at strengthening economic cooperation and improving infrastructure with countries along the routes in a peaceful way that can lead to win-win progress. The plan is hailed by most South Asian and Indian Ocean countries, but the Indian government holds that there must be some ulterior geopolitical purposes behind it.
New Delhi doesn’t want countries in South Asia and the Indian Ocean to participate in the program, but it is unable to propose a substitute. Regarding the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor, India underlined that it has already had interconnecting and interworking projects with Myanmar and Bangladesh. And Modi rushed through a hollow Project Mausam to counter the 21st century maritime Silk Road before Xi kicked off his visit to India in September 2014.
Now that Modi has reached out to the Indian Ocean island states, it seems India is determined to gain a dominant position in the region by enhancing military and security cooperation with them.
Modi’s trip to Sri Lanka has courted attention from media outlets of many countries including China, with most of them believing New Delhi has gained the upper hand when Colombo halted the China-invested project.
Historical disputes between India and Sri Lanka over the Tamil people and fishery resources will make it difficult for the two sides to build a rapport any time soon. Modi included in his Sri Lanka trip the city of Jaffna in the Tamil-majority Northern Province, which in fact shows India’s interference in the country’s internal affairs.
Sino-Sri Lankan friendship goes back a long way. Beijing provided help and support for the nation during its 26-year civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, an independent militant organization also known as the Tamil Tigers. And save for China, no other country was willing to help Colombo then. While some states hampered Colombo’s efforts to resume domestic order under the excuse of human rights, Beijing again offered assistance for its postwar healing. If the Sri Lankan government ignores China’s goodwill in a bid to cater to certain powers, it will hardly gain respect from the international community.
Every small country yearns to strike a balance among different powers. Some of them even attempt to maximize their national interests by taking advantage of the competition among great powers. China put forward the “One Belt and One Road” project to resolve contradictions and conflicts in regional economy and social development instead of creating feuds. Beijing should respect their attitude by further negotiating with countries along the routes and discuss with them the rationality and feasibility of specific projects. (Global Times)