The President of Sri Lanka and the Prime Minister of Pakistan held cordial meetings in Islamabad and talked about deepening their cooperation based on common views about regional issues.India will not be amused.Sri Lanka and Pakistan both have reasons to worry about India’s regional aspirations; both countries enjoy good relations with China. India worries, not without reason, that China will promote a new alliance in what India thinks of as its own back yard. Indian strategists often talk about China’s “string of pearls” strategy: an attempt to build naval bases in key locations along the long route from China to the Middle East.To China, this might look like a simple and straightforward way to protect its oil supplies and to protect the increasing number of Chinese citizens engaged in various mining, construction and trading activities in Africa and the Middle East. To India, it looks like a threat to its security and its long hoped for rise to great power status.Pakistan, which wants more backing from China than China really wants to give it, stands to gain by deepening its ties with Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka shares some of Pakistan’s sense of being threatened by India’s predominance; during the civil war the presence of many Tamils in southern India made Sri Lanka uneasy about its neighbor’s intentions.The intricacies of South Asian diplomacy were once of little interest to Americans; that can’t be true anymore. Pakistan would like to sharpen differences between the US and India on the one hand and China on the other; that enhances Pakistan’s value to Beijing and, Islamabad hopes, will bring Pakistan new aid to replace what the Americans may soon take away. Sri Lanka, angry at western criticism over the endgame in its brutal civil war, grateful for China’s support and worried about India, is one of a very few countries that might share Pakistan’s interest in drawing more Chinese interest to the Indian Ocean.The US will have to keep an eye on this one; Via Meadia is watching it too.
String of Pearls?