NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India, caught flatfooted by the appointment of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Sri Lanka’s premier, has opened urgent diplomatic and political contacts with the strongman who drew close to China during his previous tenure as president, officials said.
The tear-shaped island, located off the southern tip of India, has become an arena of tussle between New Delhi and Beijing, which has built ports, power stations and highways as part of its Belt and Road Initiative of trade and transport links across Asia.
Rajapaksa had opened up Sri Lanka’s main port to Chinese naval submarines when he was president, which stoked anger in India. His return to power in a surprise move by current President Maithripala Sirisena has drawn concern in New Delhi that China would tighten its grip on the island that lies along busy shipping lanes.
“It is advantage China at the moment,” said Srikanth Kondappali, a specialist on India-China ties at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University who closely tracks the regional rivalry between the Asian giants.