‘China a major player in Sri Lanka war’

May 2nd, 2009 - 6:33 pm ICT by IANS  

London, May 2 (IANS) The Sri Lankan government has been able to disregard international concern over its civil war with Tamils because of financial and military backing by China, a senior former Indian intelligence official was quoted saying Saturday.
The Times newspaper said China has replaced Japan as Sri Lanka’s biggest foreign donor giving the island-nation nearly a billion US dollars last year.

By comparison, the US gave $7.4 million last year, and Britain 1.25 million pounds.

“That’s why Sri Lanka has been so dismissive of international criticism,” B. Raman of the Chennai Centre for China Studies, a former additional secretary in the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s external intelligence agency.

“It knows it can rely on support from China,” he added.

The Times said strategic experts believe a billion dollar commercial port that the Chinese are building in the southern Sri Lankan town of Hambantota will eventually become a base for its navy.

“Ever since Sri Lanka agreed to the [port construction] plan, in March 2007, China has given it all the aid, arms and diplomatic support it needs to defeat the Tigers, without worrying about the West,” the paper reported.

“China has cultivated ties with Sri Lanka for decades and became its biggest arms supplier in the 1990s, when India and Western governments refused to sell weapons to Colombo for use in the civil war. Beijing appears to have increased arms sales significantly to Sri Lanka since 2007, when the US suspended military aid over human rights issues,” it paper said.

The Times said many US and Indian military planners regard the port as part of a “string of pearls” strategy under which China is also building or upgrading ports at Gwadar in Pakistan, Chittagong in Bangladesh and Sittwe in Myanmar.

The strategy was outlined in a paper by Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher J. Pehrson, of the Pentagon’s Air Staff, in 2006, and again in a report by the US Joint Forces Command in November.

Stepping in after India’s insistence on selling only defensive weapons to Sri Lanka, the Chinese gave six F7 fighter aircraft to Sri Lanka last year - apparently free of charge.

The paper quoted unnamed Indian security sources as saying China has encouraged Pakistan to sell weapons to Sri Lanka and to train Sri Lankan pilots to fly the Chinese fighters.

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