China under President Xi Jinping is promoting the revival of the Silk Route as well as the 21st Century Maritime Silk Route in a big way as a part of its strategic westward reach. It involves reaching out to South Asian countries as well as the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). India by its size, soft power and economic clout dominates both the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean neighbourhood.
If we go by his performance so far, president Xi has emerged as a pragmatist who does not lose sight of his end goals as long as his “core interests” are not threatened. China’s media comments after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three-nation visit in the IOR indicate a better appreciation in Beijing of India’s role in IOR. Perhaps president Xi having factored Modi’s assertive leadership style understood that wishing away India in this region would not be easy and it would not benefit China. So Beijing seems to be in a mood to cooperate and coordinate (if possible) its activities with India in this region.
This could be related to the international strategic environment as well as China’s desire to take advantage of India’s growth story which is being rewritten under Modi’s leadership. Of course, China objections to prime minister Modi’s February 2015 -visit to Arunachal Pradesh showed that despite all the cooing comments Beijing would not compromise upon its core interest.
India’s experience in dealing with China holds an important lesson for Sri Lanka’s leadership – there will be no mixing of metaphors when it comes to China’s national interest. We can expect President Maithripala Sirisena to face the moment of truth when he talks with president Xi. So the Sri Lankan argument about cleaning up corruption in all projects including the Chinese ones just as China is doing, may not cut much ice except sympathetic nods.