While events in Paris have captured the attention of most of the world over the last few days, the change of leadership in Sri Lanka has also been at the forefront of attention in New Delhi and probably in Beijing.
Potentially, India and China have the most to gain – and the most to lose – from the defeat of long-time president Mahinda Rajapaksa by his former ally and Cabinet Minister, Maithgripala Sirisena.
During more than a decade in power, Rajapaksa has placed Sri Lanka firmly in the Beijing orbit. This was done partly to counter Indian pressure for a more conciliatory approach to his country's Tamil minority in the wake of the ruinous civil war, but also to supply the finance and investment needed for reconstruction following the long-running conflict.
This worked for a while, but in recent months many Sri Lankans have expressed concern over Beijing's growing influence.
Between 2005 and 2014 China provided almost $7 billion in assistance to the island nation, virtually all of it in the form of so-called 'soft' loans. For soft loans read influence peddling.
Rajapaksa needed the money for the roads, expressways, ports, railways and so on to bolster his popularity that was beginning to wane as memories of victory in the war faded. He wasn't going to get it from the West, which had the annoying habit of questioning his civil rights record during the years following the defeat of the northern separatists. China, with its more relaxed attitude to such matters, was a welcome new option.
Concern in New Delhi turned up a notch in the second half of last year with the announcement China would fund the building of a new port in Colombo followed by a series of 'courtesy visits' from Chinese submarines. Writing for the East Asia Forum, Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, David Brewster concluded:
"Claims by Beijing that its nuclear-powered attack submarine is on deployment against Somali pirates are risible. Despite Colombo's initial attempts at secrecy, the visits seem to be a deliberate signal by China that it intends to maintain a submarine presence in the Indian Ocean and that Sri Lanka will play an important role in that strategy."
Conscious of the dangers of upsetting its large neighbour, Rajapaksa tried to assure the Indian Government that all dealings with the Chinese were on a strictly commercial basis with no strategic intent, a claim echoed by Beijing. No-one in India was believing them.
For New Delhi, this was a further example of what it calls 'the string of pearls' a series of friendly harbours that China is seeing to establish around the Indian Ocean; harbours that could be used both to expand its own influence in the area and restrict India's
While most independent analysts, including many in the West, discount the string of pearls theory, the concern, especially among senior members of the Indian Defence Force, is palpable.
But after the election it's a new ball game – and one that India will feel it is better placed to dominate.
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About the Author
Graham Cooke has been a journalist for more than four decades, having lived in England, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, for a lengthy period covering the diplomatic round for The Canberra Times.
He has travelled to and reported on events in more than 20 countries, including an extended stay in the Middle East. Based in Canberra, where he obtains casual employment as a speech writer in the Australian Public Service, he continues to find occasional assignments overseas, supporting the coverage of international news organisations.