Defence chiefs offers India assurance on China's growing South Asia ties

Minister indirectly addresses Delhi's fears about Beijing's circle of influence in it backyard

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 September, 2012, 3:23am


Defence Minister Liang Guanglie says Beijing's increasingly close ties in South Asia are aimed at ensuring regional "security and stability" and are not intended to harm any "third party".

Liang, the first defence minister to visit Sri Lanka, did not name India - where he heads to today - but officials in New Delhi have expressed concerns about Beijing's influence in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan.

India fears it may suffer from a Chinese policy of throwing a "string of pearls" - or creating a circle of influence - around it. But in a speech released by Sri Lanka's military yesterday, Liang said China had only peaceful intentions in South Asia, while stressing that the Indian Ocean was an important supply route for the fast-developing Chinese economy.

Beijing was seeking "harmonious co-existence and mutually beneficial and win-win co-operation" with countries in the region, Liang told a Sri Lankan army staff college on Thursday, according to a copy of the speech.

In New Delhi, Liang will be a guest of the defence ministry, an Indian government spokesman said, without giving details of what will be discussed.

India is warily eyeing growing Chinese clout in what New Delhi regards as its traditional sphere of influence.

Liang dismissed the "China threat theory".

"Some people in the international community suspect that China will take the road of expansion with force and have been actively spreading the 'China threat theory'," he said. "The People's Liberation Army's efforts in conducting friendly exchanges and co-operation with its counterparts in South Asia are intended for maintaining regional security and stability and not targeted at any third party."

Liang said his trip to Colombo was aimed at further strengthening ties with Sri Lanka, including military co-operation.

China is a key supplier of weapons to the Sri Lankan military, which in 2009 crushed the Tamil Tiger rebels and declared an end to 37 years of ethnic conflict that claimed up to 100,000 lives on the island, according to United Nations estimates.

To foster closer ties with Sri Lanka, China will reportedly provide US$100 million for Sri Lankan army welfare and infrastructure projects.