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China and Rajapaksa’s bid to return to power in Sri Lanka; By Col. R. Hariharan

C3S Paper No. 0155/2015


[This is an extract of a brief interview with an Indian TV news channel  today on China and Sri Lanka general elections being held on August 17, 2015.]

China is looking at the entry of Rajapaksa in the (election) race with a lot of interest. Since January when Sirisena took over, despite polite noises, China has lost out its position of strength (gained) under Rajapaksa. So do you think China would definitely root for Rajapaksa as PM?  

Generally, China does not interfere in internal affairs in other countries. That would apply to Sri Lanka elections also. But it has a huge financial and strategic stakes in Sri Lanka.  So definitely China would be happy to see Rajapaksa back in power as PM because it has an excellent personal equation with him. Apart from this, China’s major projects in Sri Lanka, in which it has invested over $ 4.6 billion, have been stalled after the new government came to power. Though some of the projects are now being resumed, there had been no progress in some others like the Colombo Port reclamation project costing $ 1.4 billion. This project has strategic relevance for China as it would help China gain total control of over 300 acres of reclaimed land close to the mouth of the Colombo harbour.  China would definitely like these projects completed without any further delay.

In case Rajapaksa returns to power, what possible impact it would be having on Indo-Sri Lanka relations, given Rajapaksa’s tilt towards  China?

Though Rajapaksa would probably like to adopt a pro-China policy, he is well known for his pragmatism. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka has paid a lot of dividend. India’s concerns have now been brought to the fore.

And we can see their impact in his UPFA coalition’s manifesto. In the words of Dr Dayan Jayatilleka, foreign policy advisor of UPFA, “specific mention has been made about India in the foreign policy segment of the UPFA manifesto. Good relations with India is axiomatic. Good relations with India will be a corner stone of the UPFA foreign policy.”

Moreover, Rajapaksa knows that after the recent constitutional amendment, the freewheeling days of executive presidency are over, and the prime minister is more accountable to the parliament now. So he would probably take these aspects into consideration.  But first, he has to win the election.

If Rajapaksa does not make it, is it the end of his political career?

No. I don’t think so. Rajapaksa is a political veteran who has loyal followers in Sri Lanka and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). So if he fails it would be a major political setback; but not curtains for him. What must be worrying for him are the two cases of misappropriation of public money including employees provident fund which has been filed against him the court for legal action. Equally damaging to his reputation could be the Tajudeen murder case which was hushed up during his regime; Rajapaksa’s son Namal Rajapaksa’s name has figured in the case. That must be worrying him because they would affect his public credibility.

(Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90. He is associated with the South Asia Analysis Group and the Chennai Centre for China Studies. E- mail: haridirect@gmail.com Blog: www.col.hariharan.info)

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