Manifestation of rivalry
The growing rivalry between India and China to increase their stronghold in small neighbouring countries is finally taking a toll on the governments in these countries. Recently, the pro-China President in the Maldives, Abdulla Yameen, was voted out in the presidential election conducted earlier this year. Yameen, who will relinquish office in mid-November this year, has ruled the Indian Ocean island nation for the last five years with an iron fist, sending opposition leaders to jail and exile, imposing a state of emergency, and stifling the freedom of judiciary. His government also oversaw a large number of infrastructure projects handed out to Chinese companies besides leasing out some of the strategically located Maldivian atolls to the Chinese government, which plans to set up a silk route through the country by building a string of highways and seaports. But with President Yameen losing the elections and the Maldivian Supreme Court dismissing his pleas to cancel the poll outcome and hold a fresh election, the growing Chinese hegemony in the country is likely to face stiff restrictions from the new government. The President-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the united opposition has vowed to review all the ongoing and future Chinese projects in the country. He has also made it clear that the island nation would follow the India First policy under which it would give preference to India for all its security needs. An interesting aspect of the recent developments in the Maldives is that the people did not like the idea of giving too much importance to China by the Yameen government and they expressed their preferences through the ballot.
Not far from the Maldives, another island nation Sri Lanka is in the midst of a serious constitutional crisis. In a quick and disturbing development, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena last week sacked the cabinet including Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, suspended the Parliament and appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom he ousted from the presidency in 2015, as the new prime minister. Addressing the nation on TV, Sirisena said there have been significant differences between him and Wickramasinghe on a variety of issues. He also alleged that a cabinet minister was involved in a plot to kill him. Sirisena and Wickramasinghe had joined hands to defeat in the 2015 presidential election in which pro-China Rajapaksa was defeated. Chinese President Xi Jinping has congratulated Rajapaksa on his appointment as the new prime minister, the only world leader to do so. For the moment, the supporters of Wickramasinghe and Rajapaksa are reported to be clashing at different places in the island nation and a serious constitutional crisis has broken out with the Speaker of the Parliament requesting Srisena to reconsider his decision to sack Wickramasinghe as the Prime Minister and appoint Rajapaksa in his place.
Wickramasinghe had paid a visit to India only about a week ago and around the same time, the Sri Lankan media had reported that Srisena had talked about India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) planning to kill him. Later, he rubbished the claim and even called up Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and told him that the media reports were false and misleading. Srisena is said to be especially peeved at Wickramasinghe's decision to lease a seaport to India. Sirisena's decision to bring in pro-China Rajapaksha is being seen as a move to counter the growing influence of India in the country with Wickramasinghe aggressively pursuing a pro-India policy.
In the recent months, the most ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of Chinese President Jinping has run into rough weather with a number of countries including Malaysia, Pakistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka reconsidering the Chinese investments under BRI. In all of these countries, the pro-China governments were defeated by the opposition parties that promised to review the Chinese projects amid a fear of a Chinese debt trap. India was one of the few countries that refused to take part in the Chinese initiative to build trade infrastructures in as many as 70 countries across continents at an investment of $700 billion. India's opposition to the BRI mainly stemmed from China's decision to enter into a contract with Pakistan to develop a $60 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that envisages to run through disputed territories of Gilgit and Baltistan. The setbacks that the BRI projects have received in recent months in different countries have left the Chinese policymakers in jittery and they have started to rework their strategies. The latest developments in Sri Lanka is an indicator of how China is trying to turn the tide.
India being a close neighbour and friend of Sri Lanka has expressed its concerns at the recent developments that seriously undermine the constitutional and democratic process in the island nation. The rivalry between the two Asian giants India and China is likely to intensify in the time to come and this spells more troubles for smaller nations in their neighbourhood.