Posted on October 9th, 2017


China is, at the moment, leading in the Big Power war. It is keeping India, Japan and US at bay. India tried to have a confrontation with China over the Doklam plateau in Bhutan in August 2017. After ten weeks, the Indian army pulled back from Doklam border, but the Chinese army remained. Chinese border troops will continue to be stationed in Doklam said China, firmly. Analysts observed that USA kept quiet about the matter and said nothing in support of India.

US warship USS John S McCain deliberately sailed close to the disputed Spratly Islands, claimed by China in August 2017.  It was engaging in a ‘freedom of navigation operation’, known as fonop”. China repeatedly told the ship to go away. ‘Please turn around, you are in our waters’ China said.  This ‘fonop’ was the third in the South China Sea carried out by the United States since President Donald Trump took office. It was far less assertive than an earlier one in May 2017 when the USS Dewey did a 90-minute zigzag within the 12- nautical-mile zone, said the media.

Vietnam had arranged a joint venture with Spain’s Repsol and Mubadala Development Company of the United Arab Emirates to engage in gas-drilling in a disputed area of the South China Sea.   Chinese authorities apparently threatened to attack Vietnamese military bases in the islands of Truong Sa (Spratly) if the drilling proceeded. General Fan Changlong, deputy chair of China’s Central Military Commission,  visited Madrid to complain of Repsol’s participation in the drilling of a maritime area claimed by China. Vietnam called off the venture, which was in its exclusive economic zone. This shows that even nations with a history of toughness are buckling under intense Chinese pressure, said the media.

China is watching the increasing influence of Japan in the Indian Ocean. In 2014 when the Japanese Prime Minister visited Sri Lanka a Chinese submarine berthed in Colombo port during the visit.   Japan and India saw it as a message to them about China’s influence over the government headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. China has also closely tracked the Japanese prime minister’s high-profile visit to India in 2017. We are closely following the Japanese PM’s visit to India, said China. The India-Japan joint statement  of 2017 refers to the two  countries jointly developing the northeastern states of India as part of India’s Act East policy and Japan’s Free and Open Indo Pacific Strategy.

China  immediately warned ‘third parties’ against meddling in its boundary dispute with India, specifically mentioning the Arunachal Pradesh sector in India’s northeast. This was in direct response to Indo-Japanese plans to invest in infrastructure projects in these northeastern states. The boundary of the India-China border has not been totally delimited and we have disputes in the eastern sector, meaning the border along Arunachal Pradesh. We are now trying to seek a solution that is acceptable to both sides, through negotiation. ‘Under such circumstances, we hope India and various parties should respect such aspects and any third party should not be involved in our efforts to solve disputes’, said China.

China is interested in maintaining its presence in the Indian Ocean region, particularly South Asia, because of the strategic, economic, and political importance of the region, noted Thilini Kahandawaarachchi. Though a Chinese naval base in Sri Lanka is far-fetched, Sri Lanka provides a strong foothold in the region and is a mid-point in the Indian Ocean where its vessels can refuel and crews can rest and recuperate.

China is aware of the tussle for Sri Lanka. At the ceremony to mark the 68 anniversary of the Founding of the Peoples Republic of China,    the Chinese ambassador called for an end to geopolitical competition in Sri Lanka. However, China had made a      request to send a submarine to dock in Colombo port just when Prime Minister Modi was due to visit Sri Lanka. China said the submarine needed to re-supply on its way to the Gulf of Aden. Sri Lanka refused permission for the submarine to dock in Colombo port during the Indian premier’s visit.

Chins is perfectly well aware that Yahapalana was planning to kick China out of Sri Lanka. Therefore, China never fails to recognize former President Mahinda Rajapakse. At the 68th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China, held at the BMICH, Colombo, the chief guest was Rajitha Senaratne, but in the photo spread on Sunday Island  of 1.10.17  the central photo was of Mahinda Rajapaksa  posing with the Chinese ambassador. The supplement also carries a second photo of Mahinda Rajapaksa shaking hands with John Amaratunge   while Sarath Amunugama looks on. This gives the impression to the casual reader that the chief guest was Mahinda Rajapaksa!

It should not be forgotten that, when the government changed, Rajapaksa visited Beijing on the invitation of China, to explore ways and means of reaching a consensus on the Hambantota port.

China is establishing as many links as possible with Sri Lanka. The Chinese army participated in Cormorant strike 2017.  China provided more than 1300 scholarships in 2016 and in the first half of 2017, the number has exceeded 1500. A cultural progamme titled Colorful Sichuan,” was held in Colombo and Hambantota in June 2016.  Shandong Week was held in Colombo in August 2017. China is aware of anti Chinese propaganda and makes use of public appearances to contradict such utterances. At the OPA Annual sessions, 2017, an official from China Harbour Engineering Company stated firmly ‘not one square inch of Colombo Port City will belong to China’.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed in Sri Lanka at the District Secretariat Moneragala, between the District Secretary of Moneragala and the Magistrate of the People’s Government of Jishan Country, for  establishing a sister-city relationship between Jishan,  in the Shanxi Province of China and Moneragala in the  Uva Province of Sri Lanka. Once Cabinet approval is given, sister city relations will be established in accordance with the principles in the Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between China and Sri Lanka, said the Sri Lankan Embassy in Beijing.

Jishan region is the birth place of Fa Xian who visited Sri Lanka during the 5th Century to learn Buddhism .The 60 acre Jujube garden opened last year in Ven. Fa Xian’s home town was named China-Sri Lanka Friendship Jishan Jujube Orchard” to commemorate the cordial Buddhist relations between the two countries and to commemorate 60 years of diplomatic relations between China and Sri Lanka.

China is one of the largest donors to Sri Lanka, said the Chinese ambassador at a donation ceremony. Chinese assistance to Sri Lanka focuses on people’s livelihoods. In 2017 alone the total Chinese aid in the area of people’s livelihoods was around Rs. 23.68 billion. The health sector accounts for one-third of such donations every year. This includes Rs. 13 million to the Cancer Care Trust of Sri Lanka,  as well as the outpatient building of the National Hospital and the Kidney Disease Hospital in the North central province.

A well drilling project was launched in Welikanda, Polonnaruwa with Chinese assistance. The project will provide clean drinking water to hundreds of local villagers and improve their health conditions. China pointedly said that it hopes assistance from other foreign countries would also focus more on the Sri Lankan ordinary public instead of being used as a tool to interfere in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs.

China plans to donate US$100 million to Sri Lanka annually in 2018-2020  in order to enable it to be an information and telecommunication hub in South Asia, said the ambassador for China at Sri Lanka Broadband Forum, 2017. The offer was made when the Chinese President met Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Beijing in 2016.

Sri Lanka is equally anxious to keep abreast of China. Pathfinder Foundation and Xinhua news agency of China signed an agreement to jointly publish ‘China Watch’ in Sri Lanka. Gothami Balika Vidyalaya, Colombo is one of the schools that teach Chinese. Gothami awarded certificates to those who had excelled.  

An International Conference on ‘China in South Asia/South Asia in China: OBOR and the Sri Lankan Experience’ was held in Colombo in 2017, conducted by the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, Sri Lanka. This also indicates that Sri Lanka   wishes to keep up to date on what China is doing. To illustrate this, I present excerpts from the speech given at this conference by former diplomat Bernard Goonetilleke

Goonetilleke outlined in detail, the history of China’s economic links to Sri Lanka. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, Chinese investment started to flow in to the country long before launching of the Belt & Road Initiative in 2013, he said. Such projects include, phase 1 of the Hambantota Port completed in August 2010 at a cost of 470 million dollars, phase 1 of the 1.3 billion dollars’ worth, 900 MW Lakvijaya (Norochcholai) coal power plant completed in March 2011, and the 741-million-dollar Southern Expressway to Galle, inaugurated in November 2011, Goonetilleke said.

However, one could fold these in to the Maritime Silk Road, as the remaining phases of those projects came in to operation in the post-2013 period. Although there is no clear list of projects under the Silk Road in Sri Lanka, the 27 agreements and MOUs signed during President Xi’s visit provide an insight, as they cover the Colombo Port City project, Hambantota Port Development project, extension of the Southern Expressway, operation and maintenance of Lakvijaya power station.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced Sri Lanka’s support for the BRI during his visit to Shanghai in May 2014 and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) during the historic visit of President Xi to Sri Lanka in September that year, continued Goonetilleke. Sri Lanka continued its support for the Chinese Belt & Road initiative even after the change of government in 2015, and this policy continues to date, continued Goonetilleke.

Both SLFP and UNP had good reasons to support the opportunity for infrastructure development presented by the Silk Road initiative. President Rajapaksa recognized China as an unwavering friend as demonstrated during the armed conflict. Chinese economic, political and military support helped Sri Lanka to meet security challenges during the conflict years. Following the end of the conflict, President Rajapaksa had no access to funds for urgently needed reconstruction work. To make the situation worse, Sri Lanka had to face a hostile group of western countries that accused the country of violating human rights, and dragged Sri Lanka to the Human Rights Council within weeks of successfully ending hostilities. Thus, relying on China for development needs was the only choice Sri Lanka had, immediately after the conflict period, said Goonetilleke.

Goonetileke then went on to say that China has reached a stage, where it must relocate production capacities by arranging for migration of surplus factories. The persistent demand for 15,000 acres of land in Hambantota for a Chinese industrial park should be understood in this context. China also faces increasing cost of production and wages, and the chronic excess industrial capacity, whether it is cement, steel and similar industrial productions. China now needs to find new markets for its technological products, so that the country could move on to the next stage of technology driven economy.

One example of Chinese drive for new technology is the development of the Chinese version of Japanese bullet trains that currently cruise at 300 km per hour, and China’s ability to outbid Japan to develop tracks, and provide rolling stock for the Jakarta-Bandung connection by providing a 4.5-billion-dollar loan covering app. 75% of project’s total cost.  Other clients targeted by China include Malaysia, Thailand and surprisingly India! China’s largest high-speed train manufacturer has already signed an agreement with India to establish a 63.4-million-dollar joint venture plant to manufacture and repair railway locomotive engines. Agreements to undertake two feasibility studies for Delhi-Nagpur and Delhi-Chennai high-speed railway connections were also signed last October, observed Goonetilleke.

The proposed Industrial Zone in Hambantota is important, said Goonetilleke, because a port needs goods to export, and the Chinese investments in the Industrial Zone will help to generate that volume. To reach its potential and reap the intended benefits of this port, it is important to implement long-term plans for Hambantota and not abandon it. That is where continued Chinese investments in Hambantota port makes sense.

The Sri Lankan government does not have the funds to develop it, no other global port operator is interested in developing it, and now there is a global Chinese port operator investing in it albeit for 99 years on terms largely favorable to them. For Sri Lanka, what better alternative is there? Speaking of China’s initial involvement in Hambantota, a senior Sri Lankan shipping professional says, “beggars are not choosers. We did not have the money or the expertise to develop a port. We had not built a port in the last 100 odd years… we could have bargained much better terms (with the Chinese investors) but at that particular time, we needed to see fast development.

No other country would be able to give some of the instruments that are required to build these infrastructure projects and the Chinese are very particular about timing and speed. That sums up yet another reason why Sri Lanka reached out to China for funding this port in the first place, continued Goonetilleke. While it is true that Sri Lanka did not have many options but to depend on Chinese loans and investments, there are also a number of factors such as non-interference, lack of conditionalities, China’s expertise and effectiveness in infrastructure development, and continued good relations that make China’s investments attractive.

The high interest rates, strict commercial conditions, and the alleged lack of respect for laws or the environment are some of the numerous drawbacks of Chinese financing and moreover, the lack of transparency in agreements with China has led to many controversies and alleged corruption. Now, add to all of that a 99-year foothold for China in Sri Lanka, and there is also the question what will China want next? However, despite the common perception that China is opportunistically using Sri Lanka and many other countries as pawns in their great game in the Indian Ocean, it is in fact the Sri Lankan governments that have sought Chinese loans and investments.

If our government plays its cards right, it is Sri Lanka that will eventually benefit from China’s investments. For that, it is important that the Sri Lankan government does what is needed to attract more FDI, develop an export economy, address issues of corruption and deliver on the promised good governance. Irrespective of whatever government is in power, it is also crucial to ensure that Sri Lanka does not become a playground for regional power struggles. Only time will tell whether that is too much to expect from our governments and its servants, concluded Goonetilleke.

China has decided to give itself a high profile in Sri Lanka. China celebrated the 60th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between the two nations and 65th anniversary of signing Rubber–Rice Pact between the two nations in February 2017 in grand style. There was a symphony concert by China National Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka, a Chinese Cultural Fair  at the Arcade, featuring performance, Chinese food and lantern exhibition,  a cultural performance by Jiangsu performance troupe Centre and the second Chinese Film Festival at the National Film Corporation.

In October 2017, China celebrated the 68th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China. It is not usual to celebrate an odd figure like 68, but China has clearly decided not to wait till the 70th anniversary. Sunday Times ran a massive 11 page supplement celebrating the event. The material was obviously given by the Chinese embassy but this was not a publicity stunt. This is China speaking.  Therefore this supplement is important.

The supplement stated that China has made significant progress in quantum science and technology over the past year.  China’s work is at the command point of quantum science and technology and China has now moved from follower to leader in this subject. The world first quantum satellite has now been built by China. it was called Micius” after the 5 century BC Chinese philosopher who has been credited as the first person ever to conduct optical experiments. Chinese scientists had   completed work on Micius one year ahead of schedule.  This satellite was successfully sent into orbit in August 2016.

In addition, China has been the first to realize quantum key distribution from a satellite to the ground and ground to satellite quantum teleportation. This trio of quantum experiments will be central to any global space based quantum Internet of the future. China has thus helped advance research in practical quantum communications technologies and the study of space quantum physics and experimental verification of quantum gravity theories. Micius has helped in the construction of global quantum communications. These will also help in exploring basic laws in physics.

China has also built the world’s first quantum computing machine. This is still in a primitive form but it means that China now leads In the new wave of quantum computing.  There are two other advances too, at least for China. China is set to be the third global aviation giant after airbus and Boeing. It has created its first jumbo jet. The Sichuan –Tibet will be the world most challenging railway, described as a huge roller coaster built on geologically volatile areas.

The supplement also featured photos of China’s military parade of July 30 2017 in Beijing, to mark the 90th anniversary of the Peoples Liberation Army. The photos showed drones, tanks, planes, Marine Corps and special troops. The PLA has the confidence and capability to defeat all invading enemies, announced the supplement, adding, however,  that China’s armed forces are committed to peace.

The Sunday Times supplement included several pages devoted to improvements inside China. China had 97.5% rural population when it started its reforms over 30 years ago. Today over       70% have moved beyond poverty and Economist described China as ‘hero of the world poverty reduction efforts’. Many Chinese were relocated to urban areas, where they were given 50 sq meter apartments, access to training and at least one family member employed.

Today, Guizhou has selected 7654 villages, each with 50 households or less and poverty at 50%, to be relocated by 2020. The final poverty   eradication push   was not like the old one where it was done broadly, using surveys. Now all poor people are on file. for this nearly 2 million persons were employed to ascertain who was poor and who was not.  Then different policies were created for different areas. More than 195,000 first secretaries in impoverished village and 775,000 party cadres have been sent to assist  in this work. Further, corrupt officials are punished, environment impact audits are done and policies set up to improve people’s quality of life.

China’s successful poverty eradication campaign has drawn the attention of the world. In October 2016, officials from 15 developing countries including Malawi, Ghana and Kenya came to Beijing to attend a seminar on the subject. Uruguay and UNDP visited Yunnan province to see how poverty eradication was done. There are other changes too in China. China is going cashless. Even senior citizens in Beijing buy vegetable in the market with their smart phones. In the remote mountain villages in Central Chinas Hunan province one can buy a chicken or groceries by mobile phone.

The Sunday Times  supplement also carried a photographic section on Buddhism in China.  This section had photographs of the first Buddhist temple in China, the White Horse Temple Luoyang. Also photos of the Buddha tooth relic in Linguine Temple, Beijing, and caskets for Buddha finger bone relic unearthed in Famen Temple, Shanxi province. There were photographs of Zongfo temple  in Yunnan province,  Lignin temple in   Hangzhou city,  Hong temple in Shenzen,  Xian tong temple in  Shanxi province,  Huanzang temple  in  Sichuan province, and of course, Shaolin temple in Henan province. There were also  photos of the four well known Buddhist mountans in China, mount Jiuhua,  mount Putuo,  mount Emeri,  Mount Wutaif  and the grottos of Dunhuang,  Longmen,  Yungang   and   Maiji  Mountain .

Then the Sunday Times supplement  focused on Sri Lanka .There are three pages of photos of exchange and cooperation between China and Sri Lanka .They shows China’s gift of  office equipment to Parliament, Hambantota industrial Zone, nephrology hospital to  Polonnaruwa, goods for floods and landslides,  water bowsers to drought affected Polonnaruwa, deep well in Welikanda,  Colombo Port City,  head works for Kalu ganga reservoir, friendly visit of  Chinese naval fleet  in June, 2017 , Peace Ark naval ship,  1st Happy Chinese New year  cultural fair  in Colombo in February 2017,  students receiving Chinese government scholarships in 2017,  and the  new office building of China Cultural Centre opened in  August 2017.

The supplement also carried the speech made by the Chinese ambassador at the ceremony.. The ambassador in his speech listed the many donations made by China to Sri Lanka. He listed BMICH, Nelum Pokuna, Supreme Court complex Norochcholai, Colombo Katunayake expressway, southern expressways, A9 road, Mattala international airport, Hambantota port, Colombo south terminal and China-Sri Lanka   friendship villages. China helped built auditorium complex at Sri Lanka military academy too.

The ambassador then said, inter alia, China will always stand by Sri Lanka. ‘We are willing to maintain close high level exchanges’. There are huge economic complementarities and great cooperation potential between China and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s plan to become a financing and logistic hub in the Indian Ocean is in line with China’s Maritime road.  China follows a policy of non interference in Sri Lanka’s  internal affairs.

China wishes to see mutual understanding and friendship between the two peoples.    Therefore affection between the two countries is important. China will continue to enhance people to people exchanges. China will encourage exchanges and cooperation between universities, think tanks, media and Buddhists of the two countries.  Government officials, business men, professionals, students and tourists are having more and more integrations, which will definitely enhance friendship in the years to come.  It is a new fashion in Sri Lanka to do business, travel and study in China.’

The ambassador said China will continue to encourage Chinese companies to invest in Sri Lanka, encourage airline companies to open more direct routes. China will support tourism exchanges between Sri Lanka and China. China ranks second in tourists arrivals since 2014. We believe that Sri Lanka and China will usher in a more beautiful and bright t future, the friendly cooperation between China and Sri Lanka will definitely bear more fruits and bring tangible benefits to the two peoples, he concluded.

This essay ends with a few select observations on Hambantota port project, as seen from the China side. The Chinese ambassador bluntly said at a media discussion at the end of September 2017, that the deal on Hambantota had not progressed beyond the initial Framework Agreement.  ‘No progress’ he said.

But at the same time, China observed that the much debated Hambantota port was due to become operational in November under the management of the China Merchant Port Holdings (CMPH) unlocking the country’s potential to be a global maritime centre. In the long run Hambantota has vast potential if it can be well planned and operated efficiently. The port is closer to major marine routes than Colombo port. We plan to turn the Hambantota port into a major hub connecting the neighboring countries as well as the rest of the world. That is the national vision of Sri Lanka and it is also our mission, said China Merchant Ports Holdings (CMPH).

China’s aim is to contribute to the future vision of Sri Lanka bringing new investment, new management methodology, and new technology. CMPH has considerable experience in implementing the Port, Park and City” models as at Shekon and Zhangzhou in China. Shekon, which was a mere fishing village 38 years ago, is today an industrial city. CMPH has also played a key role in the development of the Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT).

The Hambantota Port project is a project to develop a major industrial and service port with an attached industrial zone .the project will comprise three phases.  The first phase of the port project will provide bunkering, ship repair, ship building, and crew change facilities. There will be 10 berths in Phase 1 and 2, and quay length of up to 3,487 meters. The berths will be able to handle containers, bulk cargos, general cargos, RO-RO cargos and liquid bulk. Water depth alongside the quay and navigation channel is 17 meters, which makes Hambantota Port a deep-water port capable of handling super-mega vessels. Later phases will raise capacity of the port up to 20 million TEUs per year. When completed, it will be the biggest port constructed on land to date in the 21st century said CMPH

A business plan is being prepared by CMPH outlining its future activities including port services, a business incubator, integrated logistics and a vessel supply service to attract more international companies to the port. CMPH is to link up with an international firm like Sinopec or China Petroleum for the supply of oil to carry out bunkering at the port. It will also tie up with a local licensed company for bunkering operation. CMPH will have to spend at least USD 600-800 million or more to bring the port to operational level. CMPH called upon local investors to join the company to make the venture a success.


  1. Ratanapala Says:

    Sri Lanka’s future is with China. India will continue to be only a jealous distractor. Sri Lanka must arm herself internally to control Indian infiltration and meddling. This is where Rajapakse failed immediately after the Indian funded Tamil Racist insurrection was crushed. Mahinda Rajapakse should have ventured to consolidate the victory with beefed up armed forces leaving no more space for Indian meddling in Sri Lankan soil, with friendly assistance from China and Russia. This he should have done despite the bickering of the toothless paper tiger – the Christian West!

    It is bogus Democracy in Sri Lanka that is keeping our nation poverty bound. Bogus Democracy, Bogus Human Rights, Bogus Freedom of Expression and other bogus catchphrases the Christian West constantly parroted have no meaning for countries like ours. These hogwash concepts though good, in theory, has not brought prosperity to the people of our country nor to any other nation in the world. The majority continues to be poor and just cannon fodder for the elites in Colombo to exploit at their will and pleasure. Countries need strong leaders, even stronger laws to safeguard the peoples Social Contract with society.

    The recent episodes of Mega Scams show that the Colombo Elite continue to rob the nation and the nation recoup the losses by imposing taxes, raising interest rates, selling national assets and welcoming unwanted and unwarranted immigrants.

    The only way ahead is for Sri Lanka to arm herself with assistance from friendly countries such as China and move forward without waiting for further meddling by poverty-stricken India, by hegemony seeking Christian West and the Jihadist nations in the Middle East.

    Sri Lanka must assert herself in spite of the of the obstacles real or imagined.This is the way forward for Sri Lankari

  2. Senerath Says:

    China will never work like freinds with ANY of the current politicians. Buisness deals, they will do.
    That is because none of our past and present leaders did not 100% honestly work with China as a friend, during good times, bad times. One of our presidet got some rescue money of $500 million form Gadafi and when the voting came at UN we voted against him, same thing with China when it came to critical decisions, we suddenly wanted to please India. Also we should not have corrupt deals. Becuase China are not fools to be friend with corrupt. They will simply act and take the business deal.
    We need a new leader with a new record, with policies that allow honouring of promises and contracts. Chinese people work based on gentlemen agreements. They get very angry if you cannot keep the word.

  3. Ananda-USA Says:

    Very Concisely and Effective said, Ratnapala!

    I fully endorse your comments here!

  4. Fran Diaz Says:

    Whatever deals are done by Lanka leaders with any foreign power/s, it ought to be ‘LANKA FIRST”.

    That is how the MR govt did their deals.

    It appears that RW does Lanka deals differently.

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