Posted on November 5th, 2017


(Revised 07/11/17)

This essay lists some new developments in China which are of interest to Sri Lanka .Firstly, China has successfully tested a high-altitude spy drone which could help it dominate a region of the Earth’s atmosphere known as ‘near space’. Scientists are trying to develop a durable ‘near space’ vehicle capable of observing large areas for weeks, months or even years on end. Such a spy drone would be able to penetrate air defense systems and gather sensitive intelligence behind enemy lines.

This ‘near space’ which begins at about 20km above sea level, has until now been regarded a “death zone” for drones due to thin air and extremely low temperatures. ‘Near space’ has long been seen as a promising frontier for military intelligence, but has remained inaccessible because it is too high for most airplanes to operate, and too low for satellites. At this altitude, thin air makes it hard to generate lift for a drone while extremely low temperature means electronic components, like batteries are prone to fail.

US Navy and NASA have conducted test flights of drones for ‘near space’ but without success. China, on the other hand, seems to have developed a drone that can stay in ‘near space’. This drone, created by the Academy of Optoelectronics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing was tested at a research facility in Inner Mongolia at an altitude of 25km. The drones had glided towards their targets more than 100km away, adjusting course and altitude in flight without human intervention. On-board sensors beamed data back to a ground station.

This marks a significant step towards China’s ambition of exploiting near space for purposes of military intelligence, said the South China Morning Post. Yang Chunxin, a professor at the School of Aeronautic science and Engineering at Beihang University in Beijing, said there were still many challenges in developing high altitude drones. The goal of our research is to launch hundreds of these drones in one shot, like letting loose a bee or ant colony,” said Yang Yanchu, lead scientist of the project.

China’s politics has also taken a significant step forward. China’s Communist Party formally elevated President Xi Jinping to the same status as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, at the 19th Communist Party Congress held in October 2017 in Beijing.  XI Jinping’s name was written into its constitution at this meeting.

Xi Jinping now joins Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping in the pantheon of modern China’s most powerful men, noted observers. He is the third Chinese leader to be so honored. This makes Xi the most powerful Chinese leader in decades, with ambitions to make his country a superpower on the world stage,

Xi Jumping’s ‘Thoughts on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era’   will now be included in the constitution. His views now join Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping’s Guide to action, as the basis of China thought. Xi’s contribution is not another Little Red Book of pithy quotations. It is a mightier, drier tome of his speeches on The Governance of China.”

Xi Jinping gave a marathon speech of three and half hours at the Congress meeting, showing his seriousness, determination and epoch making character. His speech revealed new directions for the party, country and China’s foreign policy. Therefore his speech has implications for the world at large. He spoke of a ‘moderately prosperous China,’ ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ and a ‘new era’. These were repeated several times throughout the speech, with explanations. Xi Jinping    called China a ‘great power’ or ‘strong power ‘26 times in his speech, said analysts.

The anti-China Western powers have spoken disparagingly of the Party Congress as a ‘spectacle’. It was no spectacle. A  week-long  Party Congress, is held once every five years in the imposing and cavernous Great Hall of the People on the western side of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. It is a gathering of the party elite. In the Chinese system, the Party Congress is not merely about the party, but also about the country. What is decided there is decisive said analysts.

This Congress was the 19th Congress since 1921. The Congress is composed of representatives of the provinces, the military and government agencies. Around 2,300 delegates attended the congress. 265 were on the stage as the present officials or political elite. Two past presidents, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, were sitting beside Xi Jinping, together with other key officials. BBC and CNN hardly gave any coverage to this event, but ‘France 24’ did.

The Congress will elect 370 full and alternate members to the Central committee. Then the Congress will elect 25 politburo members by secret ballot. Thereafter the Standing Committee of the Politburo also will be announced. The structure is perfectly pyramidal. There is a planned succession in the Chinese Communist Party where two heirs below the age of 58 should be blooded for five years before assuming the top positions of President and Premier. But Xi Jinping has not appointed younger cadres to the seven member Politburo standing committee said analysts.

China appears to be gaining ground in international relations. The world knows that China is having disputes with its neighbors over the ownership of the South China Sea. .China asserts sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea in the face of rival claims from the other countries in the region. China has rapidly reclaimed reefs, creating artificial islands capable of hosting military planes. There have been confrontations between the other countries and China.

But on October 31, 2017 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) held their largest-ever joint maritime rescue exercise, jointly with China, signaling a lull in South China Sea tensions. China, Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Brunei took part, with Vietnam notably absent. The drill simulated a collision between a Chinese passenger ship and a Cambodian cargo vessel off south China’s Guangdong province. It involved about 1,000 rescuers aboard 20 ships and three helicopters. ASEAN was initially set up to confront Communist China.

Jean Pierre Lehmann, Emeritus professor of political economy, has looked at the historical relations between China and Russia. He pointed out that throughout history, relations have hardly ever been warm or close between Russia and China. Apart from a shared border China and Russia have very little in common. In fact, it is difficult to think of examples of neighbors having such radically different cultures, he observed.

Russia today aspires to being a geopolitical giant, but is an economic dwarf, said Lehmann. Russia’s export sector is dominated by a small handful of colossal players. In contrast, many Chinese enterprises, including small and medium-sized ones, are plugged into the global market and looking to export (and increasingly to acquire assets). China, whose GDP is 10 times greater than Russia’s, has become a global economic giant and now is in the process of flexing its geopolitical muscle.

But political relations between Russia and China have now become very good, observed Lehmann. There are good relations between President Xi Jinping and President Putin. Significantly, a joint Russian-Chinese University has been established in Shenzhen. Lastly. Lehman said that when he visited Moscow this September, the Red Square and the department store Gum had masses and masses of Chinese tourists. They were not there before.   This new generation may create ‘a solid Sino-Russian edifice’, concluded Lehmann.

The China-Sri Lanka relationship is now getting publicity in the west. A piece in the New York Times written by Brook Larmer was titled, What the world’s emptiest international airport says about China’s influence.’ In this piece, the role of China in Sri Lanka is contrasted with the role of Japan in Sri Lanka.

‘There’s another East Asian country seeking its own foothold in the Indian Ocean with whom Sri Lanka’s bilateral relationship is often overlooked. That country is Japan’, said Larmer. On the surface, the manners in which China and Japan have sought to widen their spheres of influence here have been vastly different. China has invested heavily in infrastructure in Sri Lanka — partially or fully funding the construction of not just the Mattala Airport and Colombo Port City, but the extension of the Southern Expressway to Hambantota and the city’s deepwater port.

These developments are for the most part ‘white elephants,” says Larmer, possessions that are useless or troublesome, especially those that are expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of. He draws upon the Mattala Airport, which was designed to handle a million passengers per year but currently receives only a dozen passengers per day, to argue that such white elephant projects are not driven by local economic needs, but by remote stratagems.”

The infrastructure is built, of course, with the expectation that China would be paid back — and if the debt could not be paid back, then, that it would be written off by giving China equity, often a majority stake, in the infrastructure project. This is precisely what has happened with the deep water Port in Hambantota — which China now controls 70% of for the next 99 years, continued Larmer.


Japan, on the other hand, has taken a softer route in Sri Lanka Investing heavily in cooperation and aid programmes. Japan’s influence in Sri Lanka is not as bound by financial obligations as it is by emotional appeal. Japan, through JICA, provides six main types of assistance to Sri Lanka of which only one, the loans, need to be paid back. These six forms of assistance  focus on the three priority areas for cooperation , infrastructure for development and economic growth, social and economic improvement in rural areas, and social infrastructure to mitigate vulnerabilities.


They include a seedling subsidy project through the Department of Agriculture. since the year 2012, three Japanese agricultural experts have been living in Sri Lanka, visiting remote villages every day and working closely with communities to improve livelihoods through agricultural production.  Japan has also helped in demining efforts in the North, eradication of child labor in Ratnapura, and the provision of a long-awaited Doppler Weather Radar Network to Sri Lanka, which will allow the country to more accurately anticipate and prepare for deadly monsoons or droughts. Japan also carried out the construction of the Jaya Container Terminals, the section between Kurundugahahetekma and Kokmaduwa in the Southern Expressway, and the new bridge over the Kelani River.


Like China, Japan too has invested in Sri Lankan infrastructure with loans that must be paid back. And yet the infrastructure projects it has chosen to fund are anything but white elephants.” This means that today, in Sri Lanka, there are two East Asian countries asserting their power in very different ways, one by constraining Sri Lanka monetarily and the other by currying favor, through aid programmes and necessary infrastructure.


Geeth Sameera, an agricultural instructor with the Department of Agriculture in Hambantota put it this way, ’Right now, China has our wallets, OK? But thanks to agricultural programmes JICA has funded, Japan has our hearts.’ Japan is playing a long game, hoping that aid and assistance, will allow them to benefit from Sri Lanka’s all-important location in the end. As with most things, only time will tell, concluded Larmer.

But China, undaunted, is continuing to play a role in Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka in turn, respects China. Nearly 120 members of the current Parliament had so far visited China, reported the media. Speaker Jayasuriya is on record as having said that he requested China to arrange for members to visit China. The Chinese government has pledged Yuan 2 billion in aid to Sri Lanka for the period 2018-2020, said Yi Xianliang, Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lanka embassy in China celebrated 60th Anniversary of China – Sri Lanka diplomatic Relations and the 65th Anniversary of the signing of the Agreement on Rice for Rubber, at a function in Beijing on 31st October 2017. It was attended by Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chen Xiao Dong on behalf of the Government of the People’s Republic of China. At the function, the Vice Minister said ‘As an ancient Chinese poem puts it, `if you give me a peach, I’ll pay back in Jade’, Chinese people will never forget that when China was blockaded by the West, it was Sri Lanka that gave valuable support despite the tremendous pressure’.

In his welcoming speech, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to China, Karunasena Kodituwakku, recalled the firm relations that existed between China and Sri Lanka for past 2000 years. Both countries have assisted each other whenever necessity arose and China has supported Sri Lanka not only in diplomatic and economic fields, but also in times of national security issues, he said.

Tilak Marapana, Sri Lanka’s Minster for foreign affairs, said the longstanding, close and friendly relations between  China and Sri Lanka are built on a solid foundation of historic, economic and cultural ties based on friendship, cooperation, mutual trust and understanding and respect for the territorial integrity of the two countries. He identified the historical visits of former Premier Zhou En-Lai to Sri Lanka in 1957 and former Prime Minister Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike to China in 1961 and 1972 as landmark events.

The Minister said that relations have expanded vigorously into multiple areas such as political, trade, investment, economic, technical and defense cooperation, and people to people contact through promotion of tourism. He extended Sri Lanka’s sincere gratitude to China for being a true and trusted friend and ally during the times of need. On that happy note, this series of essays on Yahapalana and the Republic of China comes to an end. (CONCLUDED)



  1. Bkamal Says:

    Please note :
    Ambassador Karunasena Kadithuwakku is not a former professor. His field was Economics.
    Between 1968 and 1991, he served as a Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. (Wikipedia)

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