India claims Sri Lanka’s security challenges a threat to India. Who is a bigger threat to India – US or China?
The prima facie case for India to interfere in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs is to cite that any instability happening in Sri Lanka becomes an automatic national security threat to India. While the argument definitely has merit, it begs to question how far India has chipped into aggravate Sri Lanka’s instability vis a vis helping regime change in 2015 & thus virtually inviting the enemy to Sri Lanka’s shores. While all countries do not have permanent friends but permanent interests, it is good for India to determine who the greater enemy is. To India’s surprise it should now realize India’s enemy is not China!
India & US
India was used as a key base during World War 2 against Japan. Ironically India was also the main US base for aid to China. Post-independence, India’s non-aligned policy was not regarded as ‘democratic’ by US. Dwight Eisenhower became the first US President to visit India in 1959.
India was considered a strategic partner against Communist China during JFK’s Presidency & supported India during the Indo-Sino war of 1962. US supplied arms, ammunition & clothing to Indian troops. Following JFK’s assassination in 1963, President Lyndon Johnson began forging ties with Pakistan while President Nixon developed closer ties with Pakistan while Indira Gandhi began closer links with Soviet Union. It was no surprise that US went on to support Pakistan during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. Following Moraji Desai becoming Prime Minister, India’s relations began to improve though US barred exporting any nuclear material to India in 1978. With Indira Gandhi returning to power, India did not support US against Soviet Union in Afghanistan. However, PM Vajpayee authorized nuclear weapons testing which US imposed economic sanctions against India under President Clinton. Ironically only Japan joined US in imposing sanctions! In 2004 Pakistan was declared a Major Non-NATO Ally status to Pakistan & same status was offered to India but was turned down.
In January 2004, the US and India launched the “Next Steps in Strategic Partnership” (NSSP),
US & India signed a 10 year defense framework agreement in 2005 (lapsed in 2015) as well as the Open Skies Agreement. President Bush visited India in March 2006 and bilateral trade tripled. President Obama visited India in 2010 & again in 2015 & promoted India’s bid for a permanent seat in UNSC & US became one of the top 3 military suppliers to India (after Israel & Russia)
In 2010 leaked Edward Snowden documents revealed US intelligence agencies were spying on PM Modi. Wikileaks also disclosed how western NGOs and foreign aid workers are also being used for spying prompting India to monitor aid agencies operating across India.
It was also in 2010 that US-India re-engaged the US-India Strategic Dialogue declaring India as an ‘indispensable partner and a trusted friend’ which pledged to increase people to people, business to business, government to government linkages.
Despite public sentiments of how great Indo-US ties are in 2013 sough explanation from US for spying on Indian UN Mission in New York & Indian embassy in Washington.
We can recall the Devyani Khobragade incident in December 2013 where she was strip-searched and put in a cell. Though India demanded an apology from the US, the US declined to do so.
Narendra Modi became India’s PM in May 2014. Incidentally, the same US that revoked Modi’s B1/B2 visa in 2005 & refused to accept his application for an A2 visa is today the of pals with Modi! US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Delhi in August 2014 & Modi visited India in September 2014. The Post-2015 Development Agenda featuring bilateral relations between India & US culminated in Modi’s visit to US is of importance to Sri Lanka vis a vis regime change of January 2015.
Noteworthy too is the visit of US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to India in June 2015 becoming the 1st US defense secretary to visit an Indian military command while M Parrikar visited US in December 2015 becoming the 1st Indian defense Minister to visit US Pacific Command.
However, in March 2016 India refused a proposal by US to join naval patrols in South China Sea joining US partners Japan & Australia.
Modi was to visit US again in June 2016 and again in November 2017. Noteworthy is the US giving a grant of $500,000 to promote religious freedom in India & Sri Lanka. This is an indication of who would be used as mischief makers in the future!
However, when India signed a historic $5.43billion agreement with Russia in October 2018 to purchase the most powerful missile defense system in the world which ignored America’s “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” CAATSA (a federal law imposing sanctions on Iran, North Korea & Russia – passed in July 2017) the US threatened sanctions against India. US also threatened sanctions against India for its decision to buy oil from Iran.
US has several agreements with its defense partners
- General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), was signed in 2002 entails sharing of military intelligence to protect the other’s classified information
- Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), was signed on 29 August 2016 – entails either military to use each country’s bases for re-supplying or carrying out repairs & requires individual clearance for each request.
- Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) signed in September 2018 – enables both countries to share secure communication on approved equipment during bilateral/multinational training exercises & operations
- Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) has not been signed yet – this permits exchange of unclassified & controlled unclassified geospatial, topographical, nautical, aeronautical data, products & services between US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency & India
There are 2.4million Indian immigrants living in US either born in India or reported Indian ancestry – while the list of prominent Indians in US political & corporate scene are many, notable names include Democratic party senator and presidential hopeful Kamala Harris; former US ambassador to the United Nations and governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley; and former Louisiana governor and 2016 Republican presidential nominee hopeful, Bobby Jindal. Surveys show more than 65% of Indian Americans back the Democrats.
More than 196,271 Indian students attend US colleges & universities (2018) while 4,704 American students are studying in India.
US FDI inflow US$ 4.28 billion in 2001 it is now $42billion in 2018.
In August 2018, US granted India Strategic Trade Authorization-1 status.
US is India’s 2nd largest trading partner while India is America’s 9th largest trading partner.
US exported $33b worth goods to India in 2018
US imported $54b worth goods from India in 2018
India exported $58.9b worth goods to US in 2018
India imported $83.2b worth goods from US in 2018
In 2016, Washington designated India as a “major defence partner”. Washington even changed the name of its Pacific Command to the US Indo-Pacific Command. Indian purchases of US military equipment are rising, and joint military exercises are growing in frequency.
The new love for India is to use India to balance power in the larger Indo-Pacific against Chinese & Russian presence. How far India’s own strategic objectives will cater to America’s geopolitical objectives is left in the hands of India’s policy makers, however, India must realize the dangers that comes with US presence & increased ties.
Leaving aside the historical linkages, formal diplomatic relations began in April 1950 and 4 years later both signing an 8-year agreement on Tibet known as the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence (Panchsheel). Both countries unfortunately embroiled in artificial boundaries created by colonial British – McMahon Line is prime example and this resulted in a border war in 1962 and it is no surprise that China backed Pakistan during the Indo-Pak war of 1965. China sided with Pakistan during the 1971-72 war with India. It was in 1978 that India’s External Affairs Minister Vajpayee visited Beijing and diplomatic relations were re-established in 1979 and in 1981 China’s Foreign Minister Huang Hua visited Delhi. Rajiv Gandhi visited China in December 1988 (a year after signing the Indo-Lanka Accord with Sri Lanka). From 1990s regular visits to both nations by officials was frequent – Sharad Pawar became the first Indian Minister of Defense to visit Beijing in 1992 and that same year consulates were opened in Mumbai & Shanghai. The declaration by Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes “in my perception of national security, China is enemy no. 1… and any person who is concerned about India’s security must agree with that fact” did not help relations a bit. In 2003 China recognized Indian sovereignty over Sikkim and by 2004 bilateral trade surpassed $10billion & $73billion by 2011. China was granted observer status in the SAARC – South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation while most members wish that status to be upgraded to a permanent membership. Border trade re-commenced after 44 years in 2006 with the re-opening of Nathula Pass. The same year conflict arose over claims on Arunachal Pradesh – which China claims is a territory of China.
The British via Simla Accord of 1913 claimed China had suzerainty over Tibet but not sovereignty. Britain reversed this on 29 October 2008 recognizing China’s sovereignty over Tibet & this position affects the rest of the Simla Accord where India claims North Eastern territories. But in 2009 ADB claimed Arunachal Pradesh as being part of India in approving a development loan and despite China’s insistence on ceasing the loan backing by US & Japan helped secure the loan for India.
Business relations increased with the arrival of 400 Chinese business leaders to India in 2010. Indo-Sino relations took a positive turn during the 2012 BRICS summit.
However, the artificial borders created by British still posed conflicts between the two nations.
India’s exports to China – $53 billion (2018)
India’s imports from China – US$ 70 million (2018)
Chinese exports to India – $29.17 billion
There are close to 15,000 Indians studying in China
There are close to 7000 Chinese living in India
Issues between India & China
- Border issue – artificial McMahon Line border created by colonial Britain. China claims Arunachal Pradesh is part of South Tibet.
- Tibet – conflict persists though India has recognized Tibet as part of China
- Water issue & diverting dams – 4 rivers descending from 4 directions of Mount Kailash in Tibet to Indian subcontinent (to Brahmaputra, Ganga, Sutlej River, Indus)
- Dalai Lama – an unnecessary spoiler to relations between the two
- India boycotted the Belt & Road Summit for the 2nd time which aims to rediscover the ancient Silk Road to connect Asia to Europe and Africa involving massive investments in maritime, road and rail projects.
Issues between India & US
- In 2019 US suspended Indian trade privileges from GSP – 28 specified US imports to India are subject to higher rates to which India responding by increasing tariffs on US products to India.
- India purchasing oil from Iran was not well received by US
- procurement of the S-400 missile system from Russia inspite of veiled threats by US – India may become victim of Washington’s Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which threatens to impose sanctions on certain companies that cooperate with Russia
- Trump raising issue of Kashmir has not made India too happy
Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions since World War II by William Blum presents 55 such US interventions with 22 countries invaded in last 20 years. US is the only country to have used the atomic bomb twice, US has invaded, occupied, bombed 14 Muslims countries,
According to an international survey, US is the biggest threat to world peace & stability. The U.S. leads the world in military spending, with more than US$7.6 trillion spent on the military and homeland security since 9/11. U.S. is the world’s largest incarcerator of people – 2.3m prison inmates of which 1m are Black Americans. Drug-war related violence across Latin America is also directly linked to US militarizing the region for drug wars!
US record list covers overthrowing democratically elected leaders (Chile, Iran,, Guatemala) imposing dictatorships (Congo), invading Iraq & Afghanistan on lies,
Al Qaeda, ISIS all trace to US and ironically wherever US wants to invade or strike its forced presence, Islamic jihadists ‘facilitate’ that project.
So, when Sri Lanka faced a regime change in 2015 installing US puppet and thereafter rolled out through them a series of pro-US initiatives that has culminated in the possibility of turning entire Sri Lanka into a US base with MCC project together with the privatizing of Land becoming further national security threats to Sri Lanka, the Easter Sunday attacks should have rang alarm bells to India’s policy makers that it has done a major faux pas in helping the 2015 regime change because all of America’s actions post Jan-Aug 2015 has come about leaving India in the cold. Other than the intel on the 21/4 attacks, India has been ignorant of America’s maneuvers vis a vis all of its initiatives in Sri Lanka and this should worry India. America’s constant use of faith-based organizations, NGOs, local stooges, paid media are all influencing local systems both in Sri Lanka & India. The break-up of India along the lines of Soviet Union & Yugoslavia has been given prior warning & the use of Sri Lanka for this initiative as well as an alternative to Diego Garcia to block Russia & China trade & military initiatives is something Sri Lanka’s policy makers & India’s policy makers in particular should worry about.
India may have had tiffs with China but the damage US is capable of doing to countries without remorse can be seen by its own record sheet of military invasions/interventions based on lies and the manner it has deposed elected leaders & placed puppets & despots. The manner that US has made inroads into Sri Lanka should by itself be a wake-up call to realize that it is not China that will become a national security threat to India.
All these years India has been parroting that Sri Lanka’s national security is important for India’s national security, well India better wake up to the fact that the enemy was invited to Asia by India & we now question what India is going to do about it before it becomes a menace to Sri Lanka, India, the region & entire Asian continent. We do not wish to have what happened to Latin America, Eastern Europe, Middle East & Africa to happen to Asia as well.
Shenali D Waduge