Sri Lanka's Sirisena administration which came to power in 2015 appeared to represent a shift away from the pro-Beijing policies of Rajapaksa. But for various reasons this has not proven to be the case.
Sri Lanka in massive debt to China, approved the Hambantota port deal, more or less handing over a portion of their country to Chinese control. Located in one of the districts most loyal to former president Rajapaksa, protests have erupted in opposition to the government plan and the Chinese presence.
Rajapaksa seems to support these protests, arguing that China is getting too much out of the deal. This is particularly cynical as it was his administration more than any other which invited the Chinese into Sri Lanka and indebted his nation to them. Is this anti-Chinese move a tactic to oppose the Sirisena government or has Rajapaksa flipped?
By flipped I don't mean to suggest he's crazy, rather has he changed sides?
Sirisena who is trying to balance IMF requirements, debts to Beijing and also play off the complicated posturing of Washington, New Delhi and Beijing seems vulnerable.
If Rajapaksa can posture as an Anti-Chinese nationalist and is willing to 'cut a deal' with India and Washington then it wouldn't be all that surprising if he's got some money, support and perhaps even some provocateurs giving him assistance.
This may be just Rajapaksa scheming, but given the stakes and the reinvigoration of the Pivot policy under Trump, one thing is clear...
The Washington-New Delhi alliance does not want to see Sri Lanka break ranks. The US has suffered setbacks in the Philippines and the situation in Indonesia has become volatile. Canberra isn't quite breaking away from Washington's grip but Trump is not earning any favour. Australia will comply. They have to and they (with Indonesia) know from 40-50 years ago what will happen if they don't, but opposing China is not in their interest and with the way they've been treated by Obama, Biden and now Trump one imagines there's little zeal to support the American agenda.
Meanwhile the Christians in Sri Lanka, some of whom live in the very district where the port is to be built are caught in the middle of the great chess game.