How China is safeguarding its interests in Sri Lanka

New Delhi, IndiaEdited By: Palki SharmaUpdated: Jul 31, 2020, 07:44 AM IST
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While India, Japan and the US are still unsure about their projects, China is the only country that has had all its projects approved in Sri Lanka

In recent years, China has cultivated a wide variety of political allies in Sri Lanka.

In a video conference organised by China in June, various representatives of Sri Lanka's major political parties participated such as People's Front, United National Party, Sri Lanka Freedom Party and People's United Front of Sri Lanka.

On the face of it, the meeting was to discuss the coronavirus outbreak and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). However, one report stated that China was using this opportunity to cultivate a "bipartisan bond".

Allegedly, China has commissioned local pollsters to gauge voter sentiment, because China has invested billions of dollars in it.

Sri Lanka has an external debt of $55 billion, and China accounts for 10 per cent of that debt. Until last year, it has invested $11 billion into Sri Lanka, out of which $8 billion was just for the BRI. These investments in Sri Lanka are rapidly growing.

In northern Sri Lanka, China has begun investing in rubber and team coconut cultivation. Both governments are reportedly discussing investment worth $30-40 million in the plantation industry.

Chinese money is now reaching the grassroots of the Sri Lankan economy, and other investing countries are losing their opportunities. The Quad nations such as the US, Japan and India haven't been able to get their projects off the ground.

Within months, the Sri Lankan government has sent mixed signals over two multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects.The first being the elevated light railway system which was to be built by Japan. It was supposed to pass through parts of greater Colombo. However, the Sri Lankan government has put this project on hold.

The second project is the Colombo port project under which an expanded container terminal was to be built by Japan and India in partnership with Sri Lanka getting the majority ownership. However, the project has still not received a green light from the local government who apparently are hoping for a better deal.

Around 30 trade unions and employees of the Sri Lankan ports authority had gone on strike over the dea demanding the deal to be scrapped. However, the strike was called off.

Interestingly, the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority is General R. M. Daya Ratnayake, a man appointed by the President and someone who has served as a post-war army chief.

The US, too, is facing something similar. American government offered a $480 million grant to Sri Lanka, which could be refused by the Sri Lankan government. Mahinda Rajapaksa had opposed the grant from America while his party was in opposition.

A committee was set up to look into it, who opposed the agreement, in their report to the President.

The Rajapaksas reportedly left the decision to his cabinet. Now, with the elections soon approaching, the views of the cabinet won't matter.

So, while India, Japan and the US are still unsure about their projects, China is the only country that has had all its projects approved in Sri Lanka.