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Concerns About Chinese Interests in Sri Lanka Undermining Historical and Cultural Links with India -Shashi Tharoor

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By P.K.Balachandran

Colombo, April 5 (newsin.asia): Former Indian junior Minister for External Affairs and UN Under Secretary General, Dr.Shashi Tharoor, has warned Sri Lankans that the Chinese, in the guise of promoting economic relations with Sri Lanka, may well end up interfering in the internal affairs of the country as the legendary Chinese Admiral Zheng He did in the 15 th.Century.

“There are some concerns in India if China’s interests here undermine our own historical and cultural links built over generations,” Tharoor said in his keynote at the launch of a political biography of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe authored by Dinesh Weerakkody here on Tuesday.

“China ‘s ambitions in the South China Sea have extended well into the Indian Ocean and the prospect of an emerging superpower casting its shadow has caused anxiety in a number of states that have been looking to India as an alternative security provider,” the Congress Member of Parliament said.

Referring to China’s latest push, the ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative, he said it must be remembered that the older silk route at that time carried serious geopolitical tensions too.

“India has been better at projecting soft power in the region than hard power but there are concerns that we are gradually being strangled by China’s string of pearls around our oceanic neck,” he said.

Adm.Zheng He

Tharoor then recalled what happened in the 15 th.Century when the renowned Chinese Admiral, Zheng He came to Galle in South Sri Lanka as the head of the world’s largest fleet and 28,000 troops on board. Though the aim of the mission was to establish trading posts here and across the world, the Admiral interfered in the international affairs of Sri Lanka even going to the extent of abducting a king and keeping him in China as a hostage.

Zheng He’s entry in the 1400s was apparently well meaning when he put up an inscription at Galle in Tamil, Chinese and Arabic, invoking Lord Siva, the Buddha and Allah, to help him promote trade for the welfare of all. But when the local king Vira Alakeswara fell out of line, the mighty Admiral captured him and transported him to the court of Emperor Zhu-di of the Ming dynasty in faraway Nanjing, China. He also set up puppet kings in Sri Lanka to serve his interests.

Level Playing Field

Tharoor said Indian investors in Sri Lanka have concerns about the absence of a level playing field vis-à-vis their Chinese counterparts.

“One concern that many in the private sector in India have expressed to me is the extraordinary stringency of Sri Lanka’s Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) as applied to Indian firms. They feel Chinese companies don’t face as many hurdles as Indian companies do,” he said.

Tamil Nadu Factor

Turning to post-war Sinhalese-Tamil relations in Sri Lanka, he stressed the need for a negotiated political settlement acceptable to all communities which is consistent with democracy, pluralism and respect for human rights.

He said that India cannot but be involved in this process because it is Sri Lanka’s closest neighbor and also because of the fact that there are 70 million Tamils in India who are greatly concerned about their ethnic cousins across the Palk Straits.

Pledging India’s help to bring about ethnic harmony in Sri Lanka, Tharoor said: “We are not merely committed to mending the past but we are also committed to Sri Lanka’s future.”


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