Sri Lanka's new government is being unfair to China by unnecessarily dragging it into domestic politics, Mahinda Rajapaksa told the South China Morning Post in a rare interview after his defeat in January's presidential elections. "They should be thankful to China for the help they extended; instead these people are treating China like a criminal," said Rajapaksa. "But I would urge China not to take it personally. It's me they are after. They are only using China to get me. China should not feel hurt and stop helping Sri Lanka." Since 2009, when a three-decade civil war between Colombo and Tamil separatists ended, Beijing has pumped an estimated US$4 billion into Sri Lanka. This has come in the form of aid, soft loans and grants, with almost 70 per cent of infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka now funded by mainland financial institutions and executed by mainland companies. Once considered invincible because of his popularity among the Sinhalese majority after wiping out Tamil militancy, Rajapaksa lost power in a shock defeat to former Sri Lanka Freedom Party colleague, Maithripala Sirisena. During the election, Sirisena attacked the alleged lack of transparency surrounding Beijing-backed projects and Sri Lanka's growing dependence on China to fund them. "They say I am pro-China. I am not pro-China, or pro-India, or pro-America," Rajapaksa said. "I am pro-Sri Lanka. I wanted development for Sri Lanka and China was the only one which had the resources and the inclination to help me. "Take, for example, the Hambantota port and airport. I had offered both to India, they were not interested. So who would I go to? Only China could bring in the money I needed." These two giant infrastructure projects in southern Sri Lanka were attacked by the opposition as white elephants built with Chinese money that would also bring expensive debt. Rajapaksa rejected the new government's charge that the Colombo Port City, a controversial luxury real estate project on reclaimed land, did not have the required feasibility or environmental impact study reports. Unlike most infrastructure projects undertaken by Chinese companies, Colombo Port City, inaugurated by President Xi Jinping in September, is financed by equity from state-controlled and Hong Kong-listed China Communications Construction Co (CCCC), or funds raised through it, with no commitment from the Sri Lankan government. Under the deal, CCCC would reclaim 233 hectares of land off Colombo. Of this, 108 hectares would be given to CCCC, including 20 hectares outright and the rest on a 99-year lease. Rajapaksa content to wait for opportunity In the tropical heat, a long queue curls around the imposing red gate of the most famous address in Tangalle, a beach town 200km from Colombo, and snakes through a metal detector. For a man who has just lost an election, Mahinda Rajapaksa sure gets a lot of visitors. Once inside the main entrance of Carlton, as his family home is called, the queue is steered by joyless security men toward a study. It's not as hot as outside, but there's plenty of warmth in that tiny room, and the dethroned Sri Lankan president is soaking up every moment of it. He holds court while seated behind a table, smiling benignly and listening attentively to what people have to say. He exchanges pleasantries and presses the flesh. He may be out of office, but he is hard at work. "This is my life now," Rajapaksa explains. "From morning till night, they don't stop coming. They want me to come back. They say they are sorry they voted against me. They want to make amends. "I tell them I'm tired. I want to rest, please let me rest." Theatre comes naturally to most politicians. To Rajapaksa, who dabbled in bit-part roles in Sinhala movies in his youth, it comes even more easily. Rest is the last thing on the mind of this wily 69-year-old politician, who, as leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), had ruled the country with an iron fist until his unexpected January 8 election defeat to a broad coalition, led by former party colleague Maithripala Sirisena. Popular discontent over corruption, cronyism and subversion of democratic institutions unseated him. In the wake of his defeat, China is seen to have lost one of its closest allies, a leader who came to depend on Beijing both for financial assistance and to ward off international pressure over alleged human rights violations. Many of the projects China had backed in Sri Lanka under Rajapaksa are now likely to come under government scrutiny. But contrary to the general perception outside Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa might well live to fight another day. That's because a parliamentary election is on the horizon and the unusual composition of the current government could create an opportunity for his comeback - if he is not brought down by corruption charges by then. The current dispensation in Colombo is an uneasy alliance of two of the country's main parties: the SLFP and the United National Front (UNP), led by current Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. "I have never seen this anywhere," says Rajapaksa. "There is no opposition. Not in parliament, not outside parliament. Where do people go if they have grievances? That's why they come to me." Sirisena ran on a platform of a 100-day project of reforming a complicated electoral system and curbing the powers of the presidency to make the parliament stronger. According to that timetable, an election should be due around June. And this is where it gets tricky. In Sri Lanka, presidential elections are technically fought between individuals, so Sirisena and Rajapaksa faced off in January, even though they still belong to the same party. Parliamentary contests, though, are fought along party lines. In the 225-seat parliament, the SLFP has 126 seats and the UNP has 41. It means the two main parties, currently partners in a coalition, may be on a collision course come the elections. The faction loyal to Rajapaksa is poised to force a split in the SLFP. If they want to keep the coalition intact, Rajapaksa calculates, the SLFP leadership will have to make a deal with him. His loyalists have organised two hugely successful rallies, demanding his return as prime minister. The rising pitch in his support and the steady stream of followers at Carlton are his way of telling the SLFP leadership that they need that deal. His detractors are confident it won't come to that as they have enough dirt on the man to bury him forever. Corruption, the excesses in the war on Tamil militancy, allegations of an attempted coup - the list goes on. Charges will be filed, they say, and that will be the end of China's man in the region. In an alternative scenario, Rajapaksa, who won 47.58 per cent of the vote to Sirisena's 51.28 in the last election, consolidates his Sinhala nationalist vote base, takes advantage of the empty opposition space and either splits the SLFP or stays with the party in return for a prime ministerial nomination. And, in this scenario, he returns to power stronger than the man who ousted him as president because that was Sirisena's promise: weaker president, stronger prime minister. Rajapaksa is playing his hand close to his chest. He has stayed away from the rallies in his support and hasn't said a word about his next move. When asked about his prime ministerial ambitions, he refuses to bite. "Let's see what the people say," he demurs. If he returned to power, would he do anything differently? He seems momentarily lost for words but then bursts out laughing. "But I haven't decided if I want to come back to power," he insists. If he can hold that smile for another six months, Beijing could yet have the last laugh. Rajapaksa blames election defeat on US and European interference Sri Lanka's ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa has blamed the US and European governments as well as India's secret service for his loss in January's election. "It was very open, Americans, the Norwegians, Europeans were openly working against me. And RAW," he told the South China Morning Post , referring to India's Research and Analysis Wing. "I asked the Indians, 'Why are you doing this? It's an open secret what you are doing.' I had assured them that I would never allow the Sri Lankan soil to be used against any friendly country, but they had other ideas." In the run-up to the presidential election, Sri Lanka had expelled the Colombo station chief of India's spy agency, Reuters reported at the time, citing various political and intelligence sources. Never confirmed officially by either side, New Delhi reportedly recalled the agent in December when the Rajapaksa government accused him of galvanising support for a joint opposition ticket for Maithripala Sirisena after persuading him to split from Rajapaksa's cabinet. The agent supposedly played a vital role in convincing the main leader of the opposition and former prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe not to contest the presidential race and stand aside for a more electable Sirisena. "Both the US and India openly used their embassies to bring me down," Rajapaksa said. Asked if the docking of two Chinese submarines in Sri Lanka last year had raised India's hackles, Rajapaksa said: "Whenever Chinese submarines come to this part of the world, they always inform India. The Chinese president was here, so the subs were here. Find out how many Indian submarines and warships came to our waters when the Indian prime minister came for the SAARC South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit [in 2008]."