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Alarm in India as Chinese projects edge closer to country’s border with Sri Lanka

Latest plans put Chinese infrastructure assets just 50 km from India’s southern coast

Location of new Chinese infrastructure project barely 50 km off coast of India. (Google Maps screenshot) 

Location of new Chinese infrastructure project barely 50 km off coast of India. (Google Maps screenshot) 

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Alarm bells are sounding within New Delhi policy circles as Chinese infrastructure projects push north toward the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent.

India’s security establishment views China’s latest projects with concern, saying the communist country aims to position itself as close to the Indian coast as possible, according to a Times of India report.

“Proliferation of Chinese economic activity and proposed infrastructure development projects in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, which could be later exploited for strategic reasons, is certainly a matter of concern for India,” said a source quoted by the Indian newspaper.

Previously, Chinese BRI projects were largely based in the southern part of the island nation, yet now Sri Lanka’s Rajapaksa government is arranging new ventures in the northern tip too, per the report.

In February, India criticized Sri Lanka’s decision to award a US$12 million (NT$335 million) renewable energy project to Sinosar-Etechwin, a Chinese joint venture, to be built on three islets in the Palk Strait — the thin body of water that separates Sri Lanka from India.

As it is 50 kilometers from India’s southern coast, India made a counteroffer to the Sri Lankan government to carry out the projects in lieu of the Chinese.

“Now, another Chinese joint venture has been allotted land in a coastal village in northern Sri Lanka… despite protests by local farmers,” according to an Indian government source quoted by the paper, adding that this is one of several new developments they are monitoring closely.

The trends are seen as an outgrowth of China’s deepening presence in the Indian Ocean region.

In 2017, Sri Lanka handed China a 99-year lease to control the Hambantota port in Colombo. China has since worked on forging maritime links with the Seychelles, Mauritius, Maldives, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and other players in the area, forming part of a “string of pearls” — a strategy intended to contain India’s strategic space in the Indian ocean.

India is not sitting on its hands though. Recent Al Jazeera investigations reveal New Delhi is building a base on the island of Agaléga, a far-flung remote island of Mauritius, some 1,100 km from the country’s main island.

This, along with the militarization of India's own territories, the Andaman islands, located in the far eastern corner of the Indian Ocean, are attempts to loosen up the "pearl chain" and compete with China for regional dominance.