Colombo, October 30 – Although the US government said that the four-day visit of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and its escorts ships to Colombo would add US$ 10 million to the Sri Lankan economy, naval experts here feel that what the US is trying to do through the visit, is to project its power in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, writes P.K.Balachandran in South Asian Monitor.
Justifying the four-day visit of the giant aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and its five escort vessels to Colombo, the US Embassy said that during the stay in Colombo, the “carrier strike group” will add US$ 10 million to Sri Lanka’s economy.
“It is estimated that the carrier strike group will add approximately 1.54 billion Rupees (US$10 million) to the Sri Lankan economy as the ships purchase supplies and thousands of U.S. sailors come ashore and support local businesses,” an Embassy press release said.
The Carrier Strike Group, comprising USS Nimitz, cruiser USS Princeton, and destroyers USS Howard, USS Shoup, USS Pinckney, and USS Kidd , docked here on October 28 and was to depart on October 31.
“This is the first time an US aircraft carrier has visited Sri Lanka since 1985, and follows the recent completion of the inaugural bilateral Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) naval exercise,” the release added.
“Building our maritime partnership is in step with Sri Lanka’s own progress on reconciliation and human rights advances and with our shared national goals of fostering security and stability,” said U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Atul Keshap.
However, naval experts say that the US sends its naval vessels to project its power in the region.
“It is essentially meant to show the Chinese that the US is here in Sri Lanka and the Indian Ocean, and that it cannot be ignored,” said a former Sri Lankan navy chief, Adm. Jayanath Colombage.
“The Indian Ocean is therefore highly militarized,” Colombage said and added that Sri Lanka is becoming a hub in the Indian ocean to project naval power.
But the US is still a minor player in Sri Lanka as far as visits go. An analysis of the arrival of foreign naval vessels in Colombo between 2009 and 2017 would show that the Indians are in the lead with 78 visits, followed by the Japanese with 67 visits, then China with 30 visits, and the US is last with 12 visits.
Retired Admiral Colombage, who also holds a Ph.D in strategic studies, said that though India has the seventh largest navy in the world, and it considers the Indian Ocean an Indian lake, it is not yet confident of taking full charge of security here against Chinese designs. India has tied up with Japan and the US, especially, Japan.
Japan is gathering the political will and the military strength to counter Chinese moves both in East Asia and the Indian Ocean.
“With Shinzo Abe winning the recent elections in Japan with a good majority, it is clear that Japanese voters back his aggressive policy towards China and a forward strategic policy overseas. Therefore one might expect Japan to play an increasingly prominent role in security issues confronting South and East China Seas and also the Indian Ocean,” Colombage predicted.
Importance Of Djibouti and Gawadar
Asked what might be China’s counter to all this, Colombage said that China is expected to concentrate on Djibouti in East Africa located in the mouth of the Red Sea. Djibouti port’s strategic location on the Gulf of Aden makes it an important military outpost for the big Powers.
Several berths at the port are reserved for the use of the US, French and Chinese navies. But the Chinese navy is moving to a dedicated facility at the nearby Port of Doraleh.
Given the misgivings in Sri Lanka and neighboring India about China’s possible military presence in Colombo and Hambantota, the Chinese will not be able to use either port for military purposes. In fact a bilateral agreement bars China from using them for military purposes.
Therefore, Djibouti and Gawadar in Pakistan may be a better bet, along with Kyauk Pyu in Myanmar on the Bay of Bengal.
China has taken a 70% stake in the US$ 7.2 billion Kyauk Pyu port in Rakhine State in Myanmar which is part of a US$ 10 billion Chinese-funded economic zone in the area.
However, the violence against the Rohingyas in the vicinity of the Kyauk Oyu port is worrying China. Hence its bid to bring about a rapprochement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, which is putting up nearly one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
But success seems to be eluding the Chinese here as the Myanmar government has backed out its commitment to implement the Kofi Annan Commission’s recommendation for solving the Rohingya problem.
The Myanmarese Home Minister and his Bangladeshi counterpart had agreed to put implementation of the Kofi Annan Commission’ report in the 10-point program to solve the Rohingya issue and take back the refugees. But the very next day, the Myanmar government unilaterally issued a “Joint Statement” on the talks which did not include a commitment to implement the report.
Dhaka considers this vote face as unethical and wonders if Myanmar will take back the Rohingyas at all. And if unrest in Rakhine state continues, China’s grand plans to make a success of the Kyauk Pyu port and the economic zone around may go awry.
As regards the Chinese built US$ 1.4 billion Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, there seems to be little progress in completing it after the Revised Framework Agreement was signed.
“Many specific agreements remain to be signed,” said the Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Yi Xianliang. It is not clear as to what it holding up the negotiations or who is responsible for it.
(The picture at the top shows USS Nimitz)