By S Venkat Narayan
NEW DELHI, November 4: The docking of the Chinese nuclear-powered submarine Changzheng 2 at the Colombo port since Sunday is sparking “enormous concerns” within the Indian Government about the intentions of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a media report said today.
Sri Lanka allowed the docking despite India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval’s warning to Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa during the latter’s recent visit here that any presence of a Chinese submarine in Sri Lanka will be unacceptable to India.
The government is now left with no option but to look upon Lanka’s defiance as “inimical” to India’s interests, The Times of India said without attributing the quote to any official.
Changzheng 2, along with warship Chang Xing Dao, is likely to remain in Colombo until Wednesday. This is only the second time a Chinese submarine has stopped off Colombo. The first coincided with Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Vietnam and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Sri Lanka and India in September. Chinese news agency Xinhua on Monday quoted some Chinese officials as saying that the docking is “an international common practice”.
The Chinese fleet of submarines, both diesel and nuclear-powered (of which three can fire ballistic missiles), represent some of Beijing’s most offensive military capabilities and have been the focus of international media when one of them propelled through Indian Ocean waters for the first time earlier this year, making its way to the Persian Gulf.
India sees the docking of a Chinese submarine at the Colombo port as a violation of the July 1987 agreement with Sri Lanka. It says that “Trincomalee or any other ports in Sri Lanka will not be made available for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India’s interests”. The agreement also calls upon the two countries to not allow their respective territories to be used for “activities prejudicial to each other’s unity, integrity and security”.
Strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney described Sri Lanka’s disregard of India’s protests after the first docking as a hostile action with long-term implications.
“At a time when India is facing increasing Chinese strategic pressure from the north, a new military challenge is opening up from the south. The weakening of India’s strategic clout over the past decade has emboldened President Rajapaksa’s hostile action in granting access to Chinese submarines,” he said.
The daily quoted Chellaney as saying that Rajapaksa could have seriously miscalculated in challenging New Delhi’s interests since India is no longer led by a “clueless prime minister with no vision.”
The analyst noted that, initially, Rajapaksa responded favourably to the new Indian government by ordering the release of all Indian fishermen from Lankan jails. But he is now increasingly seen as “wilfully promoting not just China’s commercial interests but also Beijing’s strategic penetration of India’s southern flank.”
China’s fleet of nuclear and diesel-powered submarines propelling through the Indian Ocean waters is a recent phenomenon. The Chinese authorities disclosed such voyages to Persian Gulf late last year.
Meanwhile, a Chinese defence ministry spokesman said in Beijing on Monday: “There is nothing unusual for a naval vessel to dock at Colombo port despite concerns raised by India. It is an international practice for navy submarine(s) to stop for refuelling and crew refreshment at an overseas port.”
The official said the Chinese submarines had docked during their escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia.
The Chinese official also quoted Sri Lankan Navy spokesman Kosala Warnakulasuriya as saying: “Since 2010, 230 warships have called at the Colombo port from various countries on goodwill visits and for refuelling and crew refreshment.”
However, there has been no on-the-record official reaction from Indian officials or ministers so far.
And, on Monday, Special Forces from India and Sri Lanka kicked off a joint combat exercise in the island nation. The smallist “troop level” exercise Mitra Shakti is being held at the Uva-Kudaoya commando training regiment school from November 2 to 23 to enhance interoperability between the two forces.
From India, around 40 Indian Army Para-SF commandos are taking part in the exercise. The first edition of the exercise was held in Nahan in India in December 2012, said a defence ministry official here.
Courtesy: The Island