Even as the Rajapakses were being formally thrown out by the system and unofficially by the crowd the island's internal conflict's international dimension began to show. The crowds were largely controlled by the Left radicals who were largely supported by the Chinese; the establishment was too embarrassed to ask who would bail them out while India stood by mark timing.

India has been unpopular since the Tamil war but it has made strategic advances that have borne some fruit. It has lent money, sent food and taken a general advantage of China's negative image in the international world as a bad lender. Both directly and through proxy, the battle is being fought by two states who are trying once more to control a critical part of South Asia's turf.

Indo-China brands in Sri Lanka

China is generally blamed as having messed things up economically in Sri Lanka through bad loans and debt that has made India a bit more popular than before. But the crowds are firmly anti-Indian still. Slogans were directed against the Rajapaksa family but also against India. Given the crowd's main ID -Front Line Socialist Party (FLSP) this was to be expected but sentiments alone won't decide the future course of action. India has stepped in with help several times in the last few years and those show dividends.

Given SL's precarious economic health the matter of choosing friends may be a limited affair. New Delhi has so far given about $1.5 billion (€1.47 billion) to Colombo for funding imports of food, fuel, medicines and fertilisers. It has also provided another $3.8 billion in assistance in the form of currency swaps and credit lines.

"India has played a very crucial role, especially at this critical juncture. Sajith Premadasa, Sri Lanka's main opposition leader told the BBC.

Economic relations with China grew after 2005 under Mahinda Rajapaksa as the President. Figures show that China has loaned more than $5bn to Sri Lanka so far, about 10% of Sri Lanka's total external debt. But Beijing is not political when it comes to loans. It has refused more loans to a faltering Sri Lanka or debt relief just as it did to Pakistan. That has added to its negative brand.

Both India and China court Sri Lanka because of its strategic location in the Indian Ocean. India has recently gained access to massive oil tanks in the Trincomalee harbour after 30 years to store strategic oil reserves. India's Adani group was given a contract to build and operate the Western Container Terminal at the Colombo port as well. Things are looking up for India.

And China?

Beijing, for its part, is providing some 500 million yuan ($75 million, €73.35 million) in humanitarian aid and has promised to "play a positive role" in Sri Lanka's talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) But they are not seen as enough. China has also yet to respond to Colombo's appeal for debt relief. While China has lent at 6.4%, Japan's rate was less than 1%.

China disagrees that its loans have caused distress. Officials say Sri Lanka's misery was caused by commercial loans taken in the last few years, not Chinese loans.

China is not interested in writing off the debt and the West certainly has been effective in demonising China as the "Great debtor". And India is working hard to be seen as Sri Lanka's friend number one.

Sri Lanka has ignored China's advice to encourage foreign direct investment (FDI) instead of borrowing b. And more importantly, the Chinese, from President Xi Jinping down to Foreign Ministry spokespeople, have been asking Sri Lanka to be "independent" (of India and the West, presumably).

Sri Lanka has chosen to turn to India, the West and the IMF for relief. "Wickremesinghe is still hoping to form an India-China-West consortium to devise a recovery plan for Sri Lanka. But India and China are unlikely to be part of the same team, given their competing interests in Sri Lanka, says journalist P.K. Balachandaran based in Combo.

Both Sri Lanka and India are banking on the IMF and are banking on the IMF bailout package. However, China is not about to give up easily though it's playing with its cards close to the chest. Given the global economic scenario, expecting too much from the IMF seems unwise. But expecting China to give in what it sees as a foothold in the region is even less wise.

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