India pledges C$65M in new defence spending . . .
India’s national security advisor Ajit Doval met with the Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa last Saturday to discuss security, including defence co-operation, intelligence sharing, and maritime security. During the meeting, India pledged C$65M in aid to Sri Lanka for the country to upgrade its defence equipment. The two countries also discussed their agreement on maritime intelligence sharing with the Maldives, which covers a broad range of issues from illegal fisheries to threats to national security.
China’s expanding sphere of influence . . .
The meeting comes at a time when China continues to seek expansion of its influence in the region. Sri Lanka has been part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, its multi-billion infrastructure project. While the project poured in billions of much needed investment, it has been highly controversial due to the substantial amount of debt in generated for Sri Lanka. In 2017, the previous Sri Lankan government was forced to hand over its Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease to repay its debt. President Rajapaksa is expected to visit Beijing within a few weeks.
The struggle for influence . . .
Sri Lanka is a critical hub for maritime traffic between the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Given its strategic location, China’s takeover of the Hambantota port in 2017 raised concerns in India and the U.S. that China might use the port for strategic purposes. In an effort to counter Chinese influence, India also offered C$585M in aid to its southeastern neighbour last November. Some analysts argue that the defence talks on Saturday can also be viewed through the lens of the struggle for influence in the country. “Sri Lanka-India military ties go back a long way so it’s nothing new, but what is important is clearly a greater incentive for these ties because of the China factor,” a professor at Shiv Nadar University commented in an interview with Aljazeera.