Unable to make any incursion across the Line of Actual Control in the north where India’s military might is on full display, China has turned its attention to coastal Tamil Nadu in the south, using Sri Lanka as its launching pad. Earlier this year, a Chinese company won a contract to establish hybrid wind and solar energy projects in Delft, Nainativu and Analativu islets in the Palk Strait off the Jaffna Peninsula. These islets are hardly 20 nautical miles from Rameswaram, a 30-minute boat ride from the Indian coast. The Chinese are also eyeing Kachchativu, an integral part of the erstwhile Ramanathapuram zamindari which former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ceded to Sri Lanka in 1974 without the approval of Parliament, as required by Indian Constitution. It is just 10 nautical miles from Rameswaram. Kachchativu island is strategically important for the defence of the Indian Ocean Region. In May 2019, India and Japan jointly agreed to develop the strategic deep sea East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port. India contributes more than 70 per cent of Colombo’s transhipment business. President Gotabaya Rajapakse reneged on the agreement and is getting the project developed jointly with China Merchants Port Holdings Company. Adjacent to the port, China has developed the most modern Colombo Port City from land reclaimed from the sea. In Parliament 149 out of 225 members voted in favour of the controversial Colombo Port City project. In the Southern Province of Sri Lanka, Gotabaya has leased the Chinese-built Hambantota Port to China for 99 years and ruled out any Indian involvement in the development of the Mattala airport in the province.
China’s attempts to expand its footprint in the predominantly Tamil Northern Province should wake up our defence forces. Much against the wishes of the population, China has made strategic inroads into Jaffna Peninsula. Proliferation of Chinese economic activity and infrastructure developments in the province, ignoring the sentiments of the Tamil people, does not augur well. India’s largest atomic power plant at Koodankulam on the Gulf of Mannar coast is within striking distance from Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. Colombo has allotted land in a coastal village in the province to a Chinese company to jointly farm sea cucumber, affecting livelihood of the local fishing community. The posting of a Sri Lankan Tamil, reportedly from the Intelligence community to head the island nation’s Deputy High Commission in Chennai instead of posting a foreign service officer, is another matter of concern. During the 30-year civil war in Sri Lanka, particularly in the final stages of the strife in the summer of 2009, the official was said to have played a part in the extermination of the LTTE and won plaudits from the Rajapakse brothers. His ethnic Tamil identity helped him mingle freely with the rebels. After his posting in Chennai, he has taken interest in the ports on the Coromandel coast, particularly in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. China’s interest in spreading its wings in the Indian Ocean Region is well known. It is about time the Defence Minister paid attention to this growing interest of China.