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A fine kind of geopolitical game
Ambassador Tran Duc Mau 16:04, 2022/08/23
The nature of Sri Lanka's present dilemma is this country has to maintain diplomatic balances between China on one side and India and the US on the other side.

In recent days, if somebody wants to know how fine geopolitical games in today's world could be, he just needs to look at Southasia, namely Sri Lanka. It was the journey of the hi-tech vessel Yuan Wang 5, which is belonging to China's army, to Hambantota, a strategic deep-sea port on Sri Lanka's southern coast but at India's doorstep. It put Sri Lanka in dilemma and forced India and the US to become concerned for security reasons because they see this ship as a top-modern Chinese espionage ship while China insisted that it was only a research and monitoring vessel. 

Captain Zhang Hogwang of China's research and survey vessel, the Yuan Wang 5, waves after disembarking from the ship upon arrival at Hambantota port on August 16, 2022. Photo: VCG

The docking of China's Yuan Wang 5 at Sri Lanka's Hambantota port was domestic and foreign and politically extremely sensitive for Sri Lanka because this country endures its worst economic crisis and political and social instability. Until now, it could have only survived this multiple catastrophes with India's crucial assistance including food, fuel, medicines, and cooking gas, and China’s agreement to restructure its infrastructure loans to Sri Lanka which is vital for the country to reach a bailout program with the International Monetary Fund.

China has poured billions of dollars into Sri Lanka for development projects, including the Hambantota port. Because of being not able to pay back the loan, Sri Lanka 2017 was forced to hand the facility and thousands of acres of surrounding land to Beijing for 99 years — giving China a key foothold in the country directly opposite India’s coastline.


The nature of Sri Lanka's present dilemma is this country has to maintain diplomatic balances between China on one side and India and the US on the other side while becoming one place in the geopolitical game between these two sides. For China's Belt and Road Initiative and access to the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is of strategic importance, and the use of the Hambantota port not only for economic and trade purposes is extremely crucial. With Yuan Wang 5 having sailed to the Hambantota port, China intended not only to show and enhance its presence in Sri Lanka but also to determinate to defy any objections and reservations by India and the US as well as to demonstrate that it wouldn't hesitate to use the Hambantota port even in cases which might cause headaches and dilemmas for the Sri Lankan government.


India and the US have been both deeply concerned about China's presence, intentions, and practices in Sri Lanka as well as in Southasia. They both see China as their main strategic rival in the Indo-Pacific region. They try their almost to win Sri Lanka and to keep this country outside of China's influence sphere.


Being only a ball in the geopolitical game of others and not a player, Sri Lanka is facing many difficulties and challenges to satisfy all sides and to create and maintain the balance most favorable for Sri Lanka. The arrival of the Yuan Wang 5 vessel at the Hambantota port was only one of those.


Disclaimer: The views expressed by Ambassador Tran Duc Mau are of his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Hanoi Times.

TAG: sri lanka china sri lanka india sri lanka us
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