What Sri Lanka's political crisis means for India and China

A Sri Lankan soldier walks past a billboard bearing portraits of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, ahead's of Xi's visit to the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, on September 15, 2014.

New Delhi (CNN)Observers in Beijing and Delhi are watching events in Sri Lanka closely to see what the country's constitutional crisis means for a bigger contest: the race for influence in the Indian Ocean region.

Political turmoil in the island nation was triggered late on October 26 when Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena appointed his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister, after summarily firing the incumbent, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who insists he's still in charge. The two are now set to face off in parliament in a confidence vote.
"The move caught me and most observers here in Washington and even (the Sri Lankan capital) Colombo by surprise," said Jeff Smith, a fellow at the DC based Heritage Foundation think tank.
    Sirisena came to power in 2015 with Wickremesinghe's support after breaking away from Rajapaksa, who was accused by rights groups of increasingly authoritarian behavior during his time as president between 2005 and 2015, especially during the final years of a brutal civil war that ended in May 2009.
      Rajapaksa's reign had also seen an influx of Chinese investment in Sri Lanka: between 2005 and 2014, Beijing investments and contracts totaled more than $15 billion, according to the American Enterprise Institute, raising eyebrows in Washington and its ally New Delhi.
      Chinese investments paid for a new port on Sri Lanka's southern coast, a new airport and new railway, among other projects that saddled Colombo with a multi-billion dollar mountain of debt. Alarm bells also went off in 2014, when Chinese a submarine docked in Colombo.

      New era