The Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Qi Zhenhong, paid a high-profile visit to the Tamil-majority Northern Province on December 15 and 16 , demonstrating China’s renewed interest in the region. The Ambassador attended the Nallur Kadaswamy temple wearing a white dhoti called Vetti but no shirt or footwear with it ,as is customary in Jaffna Tamil. The temple administration and Brahmin priest also greeted him in the customary Tamil Hindu manner.

According to the Chinese embassy on social media, Zhenhong visited the temple while respecting religious and cultural traditions. He also contributed to the temple by giving  books to the Jaffna Public Library and also met Meeting with Northern Province Governor Jeevan Thiagaraja to examine methods to improve mutual collaboration and raise the income of the Tamil community. Moreover, the Fishermen in Jaffna and Mannar received fishing equipment and face masks from Chinese authorities.

Given the country’s geographical proximity to India and cultural and linguistic connections with Tamil Nadu, some perceive the visit as a clear threat to India’s claims in Northern Sri Lanka. While China has invested substantially in big projects in Sinhala-speaking South Sri Lanka, it has avoided the Tamil majority Northern Province and the ethnically mixed Eastern Province, owing to India’s sensitivities and the Sri Lankan government’s lack of enthusiasm. India regards Sri Lanka’s north and, to a lesser extent, the Trincomalee area in the east as its strategic backyard.

The Chinese are keen to establish their diplomatic right to travel wherever in Sri Lanka and seek development projects. Except when India expressly objects, the Sri Lankan government is typically attentive to this request. India recently stopped an ADB-approved project by a Chinese company to develop a hybrid power plant in three islands off the coast of Jaffna, not far from the Indian coastline. India addressed the issue of security and allegedly offered a US$ 12 million grant to complete the project. The Chinese enterprise was swiftly turned away by Colombo, but the project was not yet handed over to India.

Meanwhile, the Northern Tamils were particularly hesitant to use Sinopharm anti-COVID vaccinations because they doubted their efficiency. In the first phase of the immunisation campaign, half of the populace did not show up, claiming that they would rather wait for vaccinations from India and the United States.