Colombo, Sri Lanka: The recent visit by the Chinese envoy to Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority Northern Province has sparked concern and political debate on what is being seen as a strategic move to expand the Chinese footprint, amid geopolitical contest with India.
From 15-17 December , the Chinese ambassador of China to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong paid a visit for the first time to the Northern Province of the island nation. This visit took place one year after ambassador Qi presented his credentials.
A Chinese embassy release said that a familiarisation visit and a study tour to the north was planned for a long but couldn’t be realised due to the disadvantageous situation of COVID-19 , and other busy schedules.
During his three-day visit, Ambassador Qi visited the landmark Jaffna Public Library and donated piles of food parcels “to extend strong solidarity” to local communities to fight current COVID-19 difficulties.
Experts familiar with the geopolitical of the region have pointed that this Chinese “solidarity” could be meant to win over Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen.
“China is now strategising a dual approach to satisfy the majority and minority community at the same time. The Chinese ambassador’s visit and the substantial assistance from China to the Northern Province is a strategic move to expand the Chinese footprint, targeting the fisheries community as the initial step,” said Asanga Abeyagoonsekara, Geopolitics and International Security Advisor in Sri Lanka, as quoted by inmathi, an online community hub for Tamils across the world.
Security experts believe that Beijing sees Sri Lanka as a geostrategic hub for the Belt and Road Initiative in the Indian Ocean.
There has been a clear expansion of Chinese influence in multiple sectors supported by the Rajapaksa regime for their survival and economic security, according to inmathi. “China should understand India’s security sensitivity, especially in India’s immediate southern periphery,” Abeygoonsekara added.
India should approach this carefully, said R S Vasan, Former Regional Commander Coast Guard Region East, currently Director Chennai Centre for China Studies.
“China will play any card for its advantage and it wouldn’t be surprising if it plays India card amidst the island nation’s fishers. China wants an edge in the Indian Ocean Region and uses all its techniques in Sri Lanka, turning it as a geopolitical point to corner India,” he said.
The article published in the inmathi, argued that China is now strategising a dual approach to satisfy the majority and minority community at the same time in Sri Lanka. The Chinese envoy’s visit and subsequent aid to the
Northern Province is a strategic move to expand China’s footprint, the report said and added that targeting the fisheries community is the initial step.
“We have to be careful against this asymmetric warfare being played in the Indian Ocean Region. India should address this with Sri Lanka,” Vasan added.