COLOMBO: Two US foreign policy scholars, Mark J Gabrielson and Joan Johnson-Freese, have said that Tamil Nadu’s strident opposition to closer relations with Sri Lanka will limit India’s options in countering China’s threat from the southern flank.
In a note published in the journal of the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute dated December 2012, Gabrielson and Johnson-Freese said: “Tamils living in India, motivated by continuing animosities over Sri Lankan Tamil rights, are complicating New Delhi’s policies towards Colombo by narrowing India’s Sri Lanka foreign policy options. Hence, domestic political dynamics are compromising India’s ability to counter China’s deepening relationship with Sri Lanka, including the Chinese navy’s utilization of the new port at Hambantota, thereby ultimately impacting the balance of naval forces in the Indian Ocean.” Hambantota’s three wharves, are each approximately one-quarter mile in length, and offer sufficient space to dock Kiev-class sized carriers like those currently being developed and deployed by China, the US scholars claimed.
As predicted by Gabrielson and Johnson-Freese, Chinese naval vessels came calling. On September 15, Changzheng 2, a Type 091 Han-class nuclear powered submarine, berthed in Colombo’s new port to coincide with the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping. It was the first foray of a Chinese sub in the Indian Ocean. Equipped with C-801 anti-ship missiles, Changzheng 2 is capable of attacking targets 80 km away. With China strengthening military ties, India will have to adopt a multi-pronged strategy to counter the Chinese threat, but it is stymied by the Tamil Nadu factor, the US scholars said.