The relationship between India and Srilanka predates history. But for the past few decades, the relationship is slowly deteriorating. In 2009, the end of the civil war and the elimination of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was good news for governments of Srilanka and India. Besides, the good news, India had already declared the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, but domestic compulsions -- with its allies in Tamil Nadu openly supporting Prabhakaran – forcing it to go for secret operation to destroy LTTE. But unfortunately, with the end of the civil war, India is now slowly losing its momentum and is now on the brink of losing Sri Lanka to China.
The Sri Lanka position is strategically location at the center of the Indian Ocean region. Such a visibility over the centuries, attracted the attention of great powers emerging in or venturing into the country seeking to establish its influence. Currently, the rising powers of India and China are seeking to shape the region to advance their strategic interests, with Sri Lanka once again been caught up in a diplomatic game.
The presence of Chinese officials and military officers are not secret. Besides, the huge financial help, China is offering the country by sending an army of workers is welcomed by the Sri lanka. Chinese workers are everywhere, from shopping malls to factories. Many of them are learning to speak Sinhalese. Factories, hotels, bridges even in the performing arts theatres, Chinese faces are regular phenomena. The importance of the such visuals should never be taken for granted. Over a period of 12 years (2005- 17), Beijing has poured over 15 billion dollars into projects in Sri Lanka. Besides, the Chinese Ambassador conveyed an unambiguous message to India, which views Chinese presence in Sri Lanka as an intrusion in its immediate sphere of influence. For India, this is a discomforting situation and bad development. Indian foreign policy has heavily dependent on time-tested and historical links. But over the period of time, there is a sense of thinking among Sri Lankans that India failed to see and respond to various demands and began to compare with the scale and speed of help Beijing is offering.
But, it is common to hear Sri Lankans are unhappy and disgruntled about the invasive and intrusive attitude of China. Many artists have an impressions of future Colombo tell Sri Lankans that it will rival Singapore. It will bring more investments, tourism, employment and economic well-being. This can be seriously tempted for a common man and political parties.
Apart from historical ties, India is Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner, while Sri Lanka is India’s second largest trading partner in the South East Asia. India accounting for 21 percent of Sri Lanka’s total imports and one third export destination for Sri Lankan products. In tourism, Indian visitors make the largest single group having a share of 21 per cent. In the investment field, India is among the top five foreign investors in Sri Lanka. Trade between Sri Lanka and India has grown rapidly after the entry into force of the Indo-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement in 2000. The value of bilateral trade increased fromUS$658 million in 2000 to US$ 3.6 billion in 2013-14. Sri Lanka’s exports growth has largely been under the ISFTA, whereas India’s exports have remained mostly outside the ISFTA. For example, over 70% of Sri Lanka’s exports to India continue to be under the ISFTA, while India’s exports to Sri Lanka under the ISFTA remains only around 25%. Sri Lanka could export more than 4000 product lines to the Indian market on duty free basis. Major exports from Sri Lanka includes, textiles, glass bottles, processed foods (meat), poultry feed, insulated wires and cables, tiles & ceramics products, rubber gloves, electrical panel boards & enclosures, machinery parts, food preparations and spices etc.
Over the years, Sri Lanka has been lost its financial strength. China's acquisition of the strategic Hambantota port from Sri Lanka has given it "control of a territory" is one such example. This port is just a few hundred miles off the shores of India, highlighting its "debt trap" the country is facing. Besides, Sri Lanka’s failure has resulted in China strategic advantage over the position. It should be noted that Hambantota port would not work and "frequent lenders" like India had refused to provide loans or assistance for the port, developed during Sri Lanka's president Mahinda Rajapaksa's rule.
The US under the Trump administration announced it was granting Sri Lanka $39 million to boost maritime security even as the emerald island's central bank had said last week that it had secured a $1 billion loan from China. US will provide funds as "foreign military financing" subject to approval by the US Congress. The US funding for Sri Lanka is part of a US$300 million package Washington is setting aside for South and Southeast Asia to ensure a “free, open, and rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region”. This move is said to be key initiative by the US government, since it had stopped arms sales to Sri Lanka during the height of the island’s Tamil separatist war (which ended in 2009). During the phase, several senior military commanders from the Rajapakse regime have been denied visas to visit the US.
From all accounts, India’s diplomatic initiatives have a poor history to attract and retain its neighbours. Unfortunately, India feels that it has been encircled with ruthless efficiency. Pakistan is lost and the Maldives are about to fall. Nepal is almost there, but more needed to be done. And Sri Lanka is under an understandable hypnotic trance of unheard kind. India is genuinely facing its most serious security challenge. If India is to get its act together, it needs not only imagination, but the speed and efficiency to deliver on its promises to offer Sri Lankans a future that the civil war denied them. But the recent swift action by China by ploughing huge sums into Sri Lankan infrastructure projects, becoming the country's biggest foreign financier and enjoying significant political and military influence is a strong threat to the India in future.