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Behind Sri Lanka’s Turmoil, An India-China Struggle For Investment, Influence

Colombo, Sri Lanka: 

Gleaming cranes stretch out on the waterfront in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo as Chinese companies construct a $1.5 billion new commercial district, including hotels, marinas and a motor racing track. They have already built a giant container terminal nearby and a huge port in the south.

Now India, the traditional power in the region, is muscling into port and other projects, pushing back hard against China.

The big fear for India is that Sri Lanka, just off its southern coast and on one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, could become a Chinese military outpost.

But the battle is creating political turmoil in Sri Lanka. A bust-up between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe over how far to accommodate Indian interests is a key reason the nation’s unity government has just fallen apart, government officials and foreign diplomats said.

Wickremesinghe, who was fired on Oct. 26 and replaced by veteran pro-China politician Mahinda Rajapaksa, told Reuters about arguments at a cabinet meeting chaired by the president last month over a proposal to grant development of a Colombo port project to a Japan-India joint venture.

“There are arguments in the cabinet, sometimes heated arguments,” he said.

Wickremesinghe did not name the president but said: “There was a paper put forth to not give it to India, Japan.”

He added that he insisted that the ultimate decision should respect a memorandum of understanding signed between India, Japan and Sri Lanka.

It was the first account of what transpired in the Oct 16 meeting and the government’s pushback against India.

Wickremesinghe declined to respond when asked if he believed the China-India struggle was behind his firing. But Rajitha Senaratne, a former government minister who attended, confirmed the president and the prime minister had argued at the meeting.

Two Sri Lankan officials, as well as a Western diplomat and an Indian government source, who were all briefed on the meeting, corroborated the minister’s account.

The president’s office did not respond to requests for comment. Sirisena told a public meeting on Monday his political rivals were trying to drive a wedge between him and the Indian government by painting him as anti-India.

The foreign ministry said the centre was committed to giving developmental assistance to Sri Lanka.

In a statement last week, the Chinese embassy in Colombo rejected allegations China was involved in a conspiracy to change Sri Lanka’s leadership, saying it does not believe in such interference.

Japan did not respond to a request for comment on the sacking of the government. But Wickremesinghe and an official from the Japan International Cooperation Agency said a $1.4 billion soft loan for a light railway project in Colombo was on hold.

Second terminal

India had been pushing Sri Lanka for the award of an estimated $1 billion contract for a second foreign-operated container terminal in Colombo. It has pointed to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) Sri Lanka signed in April 2017.

Reuters has reviewed unpublished documents from that MOU and it lays out a blueprint for projects India would be involved in, including an oil refinery, roads, power stations and the container terminal. The agreement also includes room for Indian involvement in the development of industrial zones.

The cabinet meeting was supposed to give clearance for the port project but President Sirisena said the country, already mired in $8 billion of Chinese debt, couldn’t give any more of its assets to foreigners, according to Senaratne.

“There was a misunderstanding between the president and the prime minister,” said Senaratne, who was the health minister in the deposed cabinet. The Colombo terminal should be left to the state-owned Sri Lanka Port Authority, which was already developing the facilities, he quoted the president as saying.

Tension had been building between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe even before the clash over the port project. The president did not approve of some economic reforms, such as opening up the services sector to foreign investment, being introduced by the prime minister.

Sri Lanka is only one of a number of South Asian countries where the China-India rivalry has roiled domestic politics.

China has been constructing ports, power stations and highways in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal, much of it now tied to its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative to connect China with countries cross Asia and beyond.

In September, the leader of the Maldives – who had courted Chinese investments – lost an election in a result seen as a setback to Beijing’s ambitions for the islands.

“Debt diplomacy”

One of the officials briefed on the cabinet meeting said he was told Sirisena quoted U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s warning last month that China was using “debt diplomacy” and the Hambantota port in the south could become a Chinese forward military base.

Sirisena told the cabinet Sri Lanka didn’t want this kind of international attention and vowed he wasn’t going to compound the problem by granting the Colombo deal to an outside party, this official said.

But Wickremesinghe, who has forged close ties with India and Japan to balance ties with China, said at the meeting that the cabinet had already approved the broader pact with India a year ago, he told Reuters.

He said the debt-burdened Sri Lanka Port Authority wasn’t in a position to build the terminal on its own, Wickremesinghe said he told the meeting.

“It wasn’t even an Indian project, Japan was going to be the majority partner with India at 20 percent,” Wickremesinghe said in the interview.

But the president not only rejected the proposal but shocked those present by turning on New Delhi, saying he was the target of an assassination plot and suggesting that the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), was behind it, said officials who attended the meeting.

The Sri Lankan government later denied Sirisena named the agency. The foreign ministry in New Delhi said Sirisena spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the issue to ensure it didn’t lead to a diplomatic crisis.

But ten days after the cabinet meeting, Wickremesinghe was out and former president Rajapaksa was named in his place. Rajapaksa had ushered in Chinese investment when he was president from 2005-2015 and lost a presidential election to Sirisena after reports that RAW had helped build a coalition against him.

Changing landscape

In Colombo, the increasing Chinese influence is there for all to see.

On the city’s ocean front, a part of the ocean is blocked from view because of the reclamation project that will eventually turn into the new commercial district. Giant billboards and wire mesh, including some signs in Chinese, close off the largest construction site in the capital.

There is a growing Chinese community of about 12,000 expatriates, up from barely a few hundred a few years ago. They are scattered in Colombo and Hambantota.

PM Modi’s government is determined to start to turn back the tide. It is aggressively pitching for projects next to Chinese investments, so China’s military does not get a free pass.

“India can ill afford to ignore the strategic advantage China has gained in Sri Lanka so close to peninsular India,” said Colonel R. Hariharan, a retired Indian army intelligence officer.

The Colombo port isn’t the only priority. In Hambantota, India is bidding to take control of an airport built next to the Chinese seaport even though it handles hardly any flights.

“We are fully in the game,” said an Indian government source. It kept its profile low, though, because of local sensitivities, the source said.







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Dead American Missionary John Allen Chau Was Carrying Football, Fish For Andaman Sentinelese Tribe

Police officials in Andaman Islands are trying to recover John Allen Chau’s body.

Port Blair: 

An American missionary killed in a hail of arrows by an island tribe untouched by modern civilisation was bent on converting them to Christianity, it emerged Thursday.

John Allen Chau, 27, was attacked last week as he illegally set foot on the remote North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean, after paddling his kayak towards the shore carrying fish and a football as gifts, according to a journal quoted by different media.

He was crying: “My name is John. I love you and Jesus loves you… Here is some fish!”

Tribespeople fired arrows at him, one of then piercing his Bible, and he returned to a fishermen’s boat and spent the night writing about his experiences before going back to the island the next day.

He never returned.

North Sentinel in the Bay of Bengal is home to the Sentinelese people, believed to number only around 150. To protect their way of life, foreigners and Indians are banned from going within five kilometres (three miles) of the island.

The tribe is known to be hostile to outsiders, having reportedly killed two fishermen whose boat drifted onto the island in 2006, and to have thrown spears at a helicopter checking for damage after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Chau called himself an “outbound collective explorer” and “snakebite survivor” on his purported Instagram account.

Authorities in the Andaman Islands, of which North Sentinel is one, say that Chau, paid local fishermen to take him off the shore so that he could paddle the rest of the way himself.

“You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people,” the reports quoted a letter to his parents as saying.

“Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed,” he said.

“I can’t wait to see them around the throne of God worshipping in their own language as Revelations 7:9-10 states,” he wrote, referring to the apocalyptic final book of the Bible’s New Testament.

“God, I don’t want to die.”

Fishermen saw the tribe burying his body on the beach the following day, a fellow missionary wrote in an email to his mother, the Washington Post reported.

“I believe he is still alive,” Lynda Adams-Chau said in a short email to the US daily. Asked why, she replied: “My prayers.”

‘Highly sensitive’

The police have consulted field experts including anthropologists, and tribal welfare and forest officers to help them try and retrieve Chau’s body.

“We have to take care that we must not disturb them or their habitat by any means. It is a highly sensitive zone and it will take some time,” Dependra Pathak, local chief of police, told AFP.

He said that a helicopter and then a ship were sent to the area to identify where the incident took place, and that they were holding talks with experts on how best to handle the delicate situation.

“We maintained a distance from the island and have not yet been able to spot the body. It may take some more days and… (reconnaissance) of the area,” Mr Pathak said.

Since authorities keep away from the island, it was unclear whether Chau’s killing will have legal repercussions.

Police officials said a murder case had been registered against “unknown” tribespeople and that the fishermen who allegedly helped Chau get to the island were arrested.

London-based Survival International, which defends tribal rights, said that the “tragedy” of the American’s death “should never have been allowed to happen”.

“The Indian authorities should have been enforcing the protection of the Sentinelese and their island for the safety of both the tribe and outsiders,” it said.







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Cabinet Clears Kartarpur Corridor Project Aimed At Providing Easy Passage To Pilgrims To Visit Historic Pak Gurudwara

Cabinet Clears Kartarpur Corridor Project Aimed At Providing Easy Passage To Pilgrims To Visit Historic Pak Gurudwara





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Eviction Notice Of Herald House In High Court Today

National Herald Case: The government had given a notice to AJL to evict Herald House by November 15

New Delhi: 

The Delhi High Court, which had ordered “status quo” in a case involving land leased to the publishers of Congress-linked newspaper National Herald, will hear the case today.

Associated Journals Limited, which owns National Herald, had gone to the high court last Monday challenging a government order on October 30 cancelling its 56-year-old lease and asking it to vacate the building, Herald House, by November 15.

One of the reasons mentioned in the order to vacate the building (Hearld House) was that no newspaper office has been functioning on the premises for last 10 years and the building was being used only for “commercial purposes” against the conditions on the lease agreement.

Last week, Congress leaders approached the Delhi High Court alleging that the eviction at Herald House had started even before the court had decided on the petition by Associated Journals. “It is malicious prosecution and an impugned order vitiated by malafides and ulterior political motives,” said Congress leader and lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, during the hearing.

The court then ordered a status quo till today, to which Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was representing the government’s Land and Development Office, gave the assurance of no action until then.

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The government has ordered the eviction of Herald House, owned by the publishers of Congress-linked newspaper National Herald

Accusing the government of acting with “revenge” and “malice” against the National Herald newspaper, the Congress said last Thursday that it will fight the government with the “same zeal and spirit” as it fought the “oppressive British” and thwart efforts to “silence” the voice of the newspaper.

Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the Modi government is “blinded by revenge” in targeting the National Herald, the newspaper founded by Jawaharlal Nehru and other freedom fighters to take on the British.

The eviction order by the government gave a new twist to the National Herald case, which has been described by the BJP as a prime example of corruption by the Congress and the Gandhi family.

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy has alleged that Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi – the Congress president – set up a company to buy debts worth Rs 90 crore owed by Associated Journals, which publishes three newspapers including National Herald, founded by Jawaharlal Nehru – Rahul Gandhi’s great-grandfather – before he became India’s first prime minister.

In 2008, Associated Journals had shut down because its debts. The BJP alleges that the Gandhis (Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi) used Congress party funds to pay off its debts even though the publisher has real estate assets worth thousands of crores.

On November 12, National Herald tweeted that it was being targeted by the BJP government for its growing digital presence.

In 2012, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy had filed a case against then Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, alleging irregularities related to a loan of Rs 90 crore given by the Congress to Associated Journals limited.

Young Indian (YI), which was incorporated in November 2010 with a capital of Rs. 50 lakh, had acquired almost all shareholdings of the AJL, which owns the National Herald newspaper. In this process, YI had also acquired AJL’s debt of Rs. 90 crore.

Young Indian, which has Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi as directors, gives Herald House as its registered office address.
 







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