Mahinda Rajapaksa
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.Reuters File

After the surprise appointment of pro-China Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister of Sri Lanka, India has opened diplomatic and political channels with him as it fears that he will revive contacts with India's powerful neighbour.

The island nation has become a bone of contention between India and China, which has built roads, ports and power stations as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, which comprises transport and trade links across Asia.

During his tenure as president, Rajapaksa allowed Chinese navy submarines to dock at the country's main port, a step which angered India.

His return to power has raised fears in India that China will increase its influence in Sri Lanka which is situated near crucial shipping lanes.

According to experts, China is in an advantageous position at the moment. It was in Hambantota, Rajapaksa's constituency in south of the country, that China built a $1.5 billion deepwater port and an airport.

The country was gripped by a political crisis on Friday after President Maithripala Sirisena removed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with Rajapaksa, bringing an end to the fragile coalition government's rule.

Wickremesinghe, who is an ally of India, called his removal illegal and said he has majority support in the parliament.

The rivalry between the Asia giants is not just limited to Sri Lanka but playing out in India's neighbourhood, right from Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar to Maldives, where recently a pro-China government was ousted and the result was endorsed by India, US and the EU.

Sri Lanka has become even more important after president Abdulla Yameen lost the elections in Maldives. China sees Sri Lanka and Maldives as stepping stones to gaining a strategic foothold in the Indian Ocean.

India has conveyed to the Rajapaksa camp that as long as his appointment is in line with the country's constitution, it is ready to do business with the new leadership.

A foreign ministry spokesperson said India will continue to provide development assistance to the island nation.