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Sri Lanka: A Pro-Chinese Constitutional Coup?

Sri Lanka: A Pro-Chinese Constitutional Coup?
Our final topic, picked by you, dear listeners, earlier in a poll on our Facebook page, is “Sri Lanka: A Pro-Chinese Constitutional Coup?”, focusing on the latest drama in this Indian Ocean island nation.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, who was previously regarded as close to India, suddenly replaced his Prime Minister with a former pro-Chinese leader in a controversial shake-up that could upset the balance of power between India and China in the Indian Ocean Region. Mahinda Rajapaksa, who served as President from 2005-2015 and oversaw the island nation's comprehensive enhancement of ties with China, took the place of pro-Indian politician and four-time Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe after President Sirisena dismissed the latter and suspended parliament, which critics say was anti-constitutional while the government says that it acted within the ambit of the law.

Adding an extra flair of international drama to everything is that President Sirisena recently alleged that a shadowy assassination plot was being hatched against him, which he confirmed on Sunday was the main reason why he sacked his Prime Minister. His office earlier clarified that he didn't accuse India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of being behind it, but interestingly enough, Rajapaksa previously blamed that foreign intelligence agency of being behind his narrow electoral defeat in January 2015, which suggests a history of Indian meddling in Sri Lanka's internal affairs. On the other hand, skeptics think that Rajapaksa's return to power through what some are describing as an anti-constitutional coup is part of a Chinese plot to geopolitically compensate for the relative losses that it's expected to experience in the Maldives after Chinese-friendly President Yameen failed to be reelected in late September following his surprise loss to a very pro-Indian opposition politician.

The struggle for influence between notional BRICS partners India and China in the Indian Ocean Region is one of the defining features of contemporary geopolitics because of the enormity of what's at stake. China is constructing large-scale infrastructure projects across the maritime rimland in order to foster trade along the Silk Road, but some of its Indian opponents consider this to be a so-called "string of pearls" designed to "contain" their country. The mutual suspicions that each Great Power has of the other in this region stand in stark contrast to their recent rapprochement following last summer's Doklam/Donglang drama in the Himalayas.

The Sri Lankan political crisis is therefore much more geopolitically pertinent than many might think. To discuss this issue in more detail, Andrew Korybko is joined by Shenali Waduge, independent political analyst from Sri Lanka, and Jagath Perera, political activist from Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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