‘Big countries should not bully small countries’
This was China’s statement in support of Sri Lanka in 1987, when India airdropped food to the north of the country. At the time, J.R.’s government expected the world to condemn India, but only China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh did so. America and the West made no statements against India. At the time, India airdropped food to the north in order to halt the operation launched by JR’s government to capture Jaffna. Since then, the Tamils of North-East have regarded India as their protector. The North-Eastern Tamil people and India lost trust after JR’s government signed the Indo-Lanka Agreement with India and deployed the Indian Army to suppress the LTTE.
The distance between India and the Tamil people widened after Prabhakaran assassinated Rajiv Gandhi. The North-Eastern Tamils found a new protector during Chandrika’s reign. Norway is that protector. Given Norway’s success in gaining the trust of the North-Eastern Tamil people, India was not pleased with Norway’s involvement in Sri Lanka. President Mahinda abandoned the Norwegian peace process in 2005 and launched a war that India supported. After the LTTE was destroyed in the war, a helpless Tamils sought assistance from India.
India did not openly assist in the war. However, China openly aided Mahinda’s government war. Weapons were given. After the war, when Western countries, including the United States, adopted UN Human Rights Council resolutions against Sri Lanka, it was China that stood up for Mahinda’s government. As a result, China became a saviour among this country’s Sinhala Buddhists.
Historically, China has prioritised Sri Lanka-China relations in order to win over the Sinhalese people. China provided loans to Mahinda’s government in order to begin projects in the south. When Gotabaya became president and became closer to India, China began to move North-East for the first time in order to win over the Tamil people. Following the end of the war, the LTTE diaspora expressed on social media that the Tamil people have nothing to gain by being friendly with India, and that the Tamil people should instead strengthen ties with China.
Following that, the Chinese ambassador to this country met with T.N.A. MPs. Aside from that, there was no further relationship between China and TNA. After Gotabaya became president, China began to move north. The Chinese ambassador is currently in the north. He never wore the Sinhala national dress when he travelled to the south. However, he dresses in Tamil national attire and visits north temples and help the people of the north.
TNA is also divided over China’s arrival in the north. Good relations are kept with China by those who don’t want the Chinese ambassador to go to the North and by MPs who work with the LTTE diaspora. But it will be difficult for China to win over the Tamils of the north-east. North-Eastern Tamils are religiously, linguistically, and culturally close to Indians. They will never forget how China acted during the war. However, North-Eastern Tamils will not abandon dealing with China in order to demonstrate their value to India.
By Upul Joseph Fernando