China’s effort to woo strategically vital Sri Lanka has hit a snag: under mounting pressure from India, the tiny island nation is refusing to allow Chinese submarines into its ports. Reuters:
Sri Lanka has rejected China’s request to dock one of its submarines in Colombo this month, two senior government officials said on Thursday as the Indian prime minister landed in the island nation.
Sri Lanka last allowed a Chinese submarine to dock in the capital of Colombo in October 2014, a move that triggered fierce opposition from its northern neighbor India, which worries about growing Chinese activity in a country it has long viewed as part of its area of influence. […]
A senior Sri Lankan government official said … Sri Lanka was “unlikely” to agree to China’s request to dock the submarine at any time, given India’s concerns.
Chalk this one up as a diplomatic victory for New Delhi. In India’s ongoing competition for influence with China, Sri Lanka has taken on a geopolitical significance far greater than its size or GDP might suggest. Situated along major trade routes off India’s southern coast, Sri Lanka is a linchpin of Beijing’s plans for a maritime Silk Road and its “string of pearls” strategy to establish a chain of friendly ports in the Indian Ocean. And though Beijing has notched a few key victories in that regard, like the acquisition of a major port at Hambantota, Sri Lanka’s current president has been much more cautious about embracing China than his predecessor.
Colombo’s deference to Modi here doesn’t mean that Sri Lanka is disinterested in China’s economic overtures. In an awkward bit of timing, Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka comes before Sri Lanka’s own Prime Minister heads to Beijing for Xi Jinping’s belt-and-road summit this weekend, which Modi is notably skipping. Expect competition to intensify as China strives to court Sri Lanka with investment and infrastructure, encroaching on what India considers its sphere of influence.