Posted on December 26th, 2020


There are three aspects to a local discussion on China, the role of China in Sri Lanka, the role of China in the world and the role of China in Marxism. Let us start with the last item.

The latest development in Marxism is ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,’ said analysts.     China is now projecting its brand of Communism as a possible model for other countries and western economies should take a look at it.

China has developed a socialist economy, where government and state-owned enterprises have played a prominent role in promoting industrialization and agricultural modernization. But it has allowed the market to play a decisive role.

China’s Communist Party has made use of the economic analysis of the west. Western knowledge on finance, prices, currency, markets, competition, trade, exchange rates, enterprises, growth, and management were used by China.China has also recognized property rights and is permitting farmers to contract out their lands.

Researchers also found that the descendants of the old elite were back in business in modern China. It is the descendants of the old elite who are now doing well in Communist China. The grandchildren of the old elite have regained the position their families once enjoyed, analysts reported.  They are more educated and wealthy, less bothered by inequality, more entrepreneurial, more pro market, and more inclined to individualism, than the rest, said researchers.

China’s position in the world is going from strength to strength. For years,United States had the most diplomatic posts but in 2020, it has been overtaken by China. .

In November 2020 China established a 15 country free trade alliance, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RECEP). RECEP consists of China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the ASEAN group, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. This is the largest trade pact in the world, today.

Chinas’ Belt and Road programme (BRI) is also booming. BRI consists of more than 200 initiatives, with the active participation of 138 countries and 13 international organizations. BRI signed 29 more intergovernmental cooperation agreements in 2019.

The Belt and Road Initiative is getting on well, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, reported China. Most projects under the scheme are progressing. The China railway express to Europe is growing. Over 3,000 freight trains have been operational in the first nine months of 2020 said China. This represents an 80 percent increase over 2019.

China’s economy has been growing at the mind-boggling rate of 10% in the last 30 years.  Covid-19 brought it down, but only by a small margin,  said analysts. China is now one of the biggest traders, funders, infrastructure builders and preferred lenders in Africa, Latin America, Central and South East Asia said TIME.

China sent medical aid to 122 countries and medical expertise to 25 countries. We have shared anti-COVID-19 experiences and practices with BRI countries with no reservations, reported China.

Universities in English-speaking countries, especially Britain, Australia and the United States, have grown increasingly dependent on Chinese students. Nearly a million Chinese students studied abroad in 2018, according to UNESCO. Many chose Australia, the U.K. or Canada, but the U.S. has been their top destination for years. Some 370,000 enrolled in American schools in 2018, bringing $15 billion to the U.S. economy and creating thousands of jobs, said the Institute of International Education.

The world has to come to terms with China, analysts concluded. The Western countries cannot continue to treat China as an outcast and try to undermine its development and influence. 

USA has developed the Quadrilateral alliance to combat China militarily. China is cultivating one member of the Quad, Japan. In November 2020, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China met with Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi in Tokyo, Japan. The two Ministers had candid and in-depth discussions on bilateral relations as well as international and regional issues of common interest, and reached a wide range of important consensuses. 

They agreed to accelerate negotiations on the China-Japan-South Korea free trade area. They also agreed to support each other at the Tokyo Olympic Games and the Beijing Winter Olympics. The two countries will start  preparing for the 50th anniversary of China-Japan diplomatic ties  which will take place in 2022.

It was also decided that the two countries will hold a new round of high-level consultation on maritime affairs to strengthen communication between the foreign affairs departments and maritime law enforcement agencies of the two countries. The two countries will launch direct maritime and air contact between the two defense Departments.

Another member of the Quad, Australia faces a problem when it opposes China. Australia is today heavily dependent on Chinese students, to keep the University system going. In 2019, there were 229,000 Chinese  students in Australia.

In Australia one in 10 students at its top eight universities is Chinese. Australia could lose about 6  to 8  billion Australian dollars   if Chinese students stay away. At University of Sydney ,they provided about  500 million Australian dollar in fees in 2017, almost a quarter of  the  university’s  2.3 billion revenue.

Australian politicians lack a coherent China strategy, said   analysts. We have grown used to an American-led world and now we are seeing the limits of that. Australia  supports US against China, though China is Australia’s biggest trade partner. Australia  also, like US, imposes sanctions on China and complains to the WTO when China retaliates.

China is now taking the US-China  war onto new territory. China has started to advertise in TIME. China has paid for a four page advert in TIME issue of   Dec 21, 2020. This is the first time  I have seen  such a supplement. It is called China Watch”   and is authored by China Daily.” In this  supplement China spoke of agriculture, film and music.

Beijing is going to   perform  everything   composed by Beethoven, even  if it takes days and days. Beijing loves Beethoven. The Monkey king story is going to be made into a feature film but with a difference, it will be in  Peking Opera style with martial arts added. China has developed high  yielding seeds  developed through a  space induced mutation breeding known as space mutagenesis. The seeds were shot into space in a rocket and brought back. These seeds are capable of producing bountiful crops, such as 10,000 tomatoes. The rocket used, the Shijian 8, is in the world’s first retrievable satellite for mutagenesis in space

Now to the role of China in Sri Lanka. China helped a lot during Eelam war. We were able to end the Eelam war because China threw its weight behind us and sent us the required arms, said K Godage. China gave the most assistance. China provided a range of arms, ammunition, equipment, aircraft, as well as artillery, on loan schemes. In 2007 they gave    37.6 million USD worth of ammunition and ordinance. Chinese manufactured T-56 remains the standard assault rifle in use among armed forces In Sri Lanka. China delivered its arms through Pakistan.

China provided jet planes to Sri Lanka in spite of Indian and Western pressure during the Eelam war. China gave four F7 GS jet interceptors on a soft loan, in June 2007,  JY 11 three dimensional radar in September 2007, though India opposed     and six F -7 fighter jets in 2008.

When the No 5 jet squadron was created in 1991, the Air Force had sought Chinese manufactured A 5s, capable of carrying a higher payload, but China gave F7s.  One of the pilots recalled that the Chinese instructors who came encouraged him to   take the plane to 66,000 feet instead of the customary 63,000 feet. We had to wear space-like suites. You could see the entire length and breadth of Sri Lanka from that height. It was a breath-taking sight, he said. But Air Force pilots had to be sent to Pakistan to receive training in jet ground attack maneuvers as the Chinese were not   prepared to share experience and knowledge.

China has continued to help Sri Lanka financially after the Eelam war ended. From 2006 to August 2020, China has given US$ 13 billion as infrastructure investment.  Thereafter China gave Rs 3.4 million to University of Ruhuna to fund a new Multimedia Centre. China told Sri Lanka at a special meeting in the Chinese embassy, that all necessary assistance would be provided to control Covid 19. Thereafter, China provided a US$ 90 million grant for medical care, education and water supplies specifically for coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, said economist Ganeshan Wignaraja.

Since the early 2000s, China has become an important provider of commercial loans to Sri Lanka for infrastructure projects. US says that by accepting such loans Sri Lanka is now stuck in a Chinese ‘debt trap’. Sri Lanka says no. Sri Lanka owes more of its external public debt to financial markets and multilateral and bilateral lenders than to China. Sri Lanka‘s debt to China amounted only to US$5 billion in 2018, about 6 per cent of GDP.

China has offered to help Sri Lanka become economically independent. In December 2020 China said it would build another tyre factory in Matugama with an investment of US$ 600 million, similar to the tyre factory in Hambantota. China also plans to build an automobile assembling plant in Sri Lanka in 2021.

Sri Lanka should look at intensifying exports to China and try to move out of the comfort zone of exporting mainly to the EU and US, said Palitha Kohona. He advised all local exporters to try to get some ‘Chinese digital advertising space’ in Chinese digital media followed by high-end buyers.

China and Sri Lanka have enjoyed warm diplomatic ties since Sri Lanka first recognized China in 1950, supported China’s accession to the United Nations and signed a rubber-rice barter deal in 1952 observed Ganeshan Wignaraja.

China always speaks of the traditional friendship and cooperation between Sri Lanka and China.  China keeps recalling this, though Sri Lanka has forgotten all about it. China makes a special fuss of the Rubber Rice pact.

 Rubber-rice trade agreement with China in 1952 was greeted with considerable dismay in the US and Sri Lanka came under great pressure. Sri Lanka signed the rubber rice agreement despite strong opposition by US. The Rubber Rice pact was at once a vigorous demonstration of Sri Lanka independence in external relations and her capacity to withstand pressure from western powers, said historian K.M. de Silva.

Pact was renewed every five years and was in operation for 30 years, till the early 80s, when Sri Lanka was self sufficient in rice and China could buy natural rubber without any restriction from producing countries.  China appreciated that Sri Lanka had sold them natural rubber when all other rubber producing countries declined due to western pressure. China has never forgotten this. A grateful China has remained Sri Lanka most dependable and valuable ally.

There is at present a happy relationship between China and Sri Lanka. The sincerity of the friendship has never been questioned. China has been very supportive of Sri Lanka and very encouraging too.

China told Sri Lanka in 2016 You have 65,000 kilometers of land.  You    always say a small island country. No. Sri Lanka is a big country. It is a great country. You have good culture. You have long history. You have a legal system. Education is okay. You should be proud of the culture, history and your country’s conditions. So why do you call yourself a tiny island”.

In January 2020, visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi noted that China’s policy towards Sri Lanka had always been consistent, and China would continue to be Sri Lanka’s reliable friend. China, as in the past, would be Sri Lanka’s longtime partner in prosperity and growth, he said.

China stands for the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. We will not allow any outside influences to interfere with matters that are essentially internal concerns of Sri Lanka, Minister Yi said.  China appreciated the fact that Sri Lanka has supported its One China policy”. Sri Lanka has no diplomatic relations with Taiwan. 

Sri Lanka reciprocated. People of Sri Lanka have warm feelings towards China not only because it has assisted us in economic, security and diplomatic fields at our hours of need but also because it has inspired Sri Lanka to remain nonaligned and also without being a strategic partner of any foreign power, said the Sri Lanka China Friendship Society.  China has not sought to project its military might in Sri Lanka. China has never compelled us to sign military   agreements, unlike US.

If we are to choose from whom to borrow, we would choose a genuine friend and China is a true friend. Also Sri Lanka noted that China has the financial capacity to help  Sri Lanka, which the others don’t. Sri Lanka is open to investments from any country, but only China was there to help when the country needed it the most, said Sri Lanka . Chinese aid to Sri Lanka is many times more than the aid from western countries such as US.

China stresses its long relationship with China. Sri Lanka usually forgets this. China Daily” released a time line in 2014. This time line said, China and Sri Lanka established diplomatic relations on Feb. 7, 1957.  In 1986, Chinese President Li Xiannian paid a visit. In 1996 Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji paid a three-day official visit to Sri Lanka  

 In 2005, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Sri Lanka. The two sides issued a joint communiqué committing them to developing an all-round cooperative partnership featuring sincere support and everlasting friendship, continued the Time line. 

On May 27-30, 2013, Rajapaksa paid a four-day state visit to China at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two sides agreed to upgrade their relations to a strategic cooperative partnership, and vowed to promote cooperation in such areas as trade, investment, tourism and defense, said Yime line.

On May 22, 2014, Xi met Rajapaksa in Shanghai on the sidelines of a summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia.  China Daily  time line ended there. It is China which is recording this, not Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lanka-China relationship is looked after by China, not Sri Lanka. Sinhala is currently taught as a major language in several Chinese universities. Apart from Yunnan University, the University of Beijing Foreign Studies University, Chongqing Normal University and Minzu University are among them.

Sinhala Language Studies Department was established at the Faculty of Foreign Languages, Yunnan University, China. Around 25 students are studying it. Sugath Ratnayake is the first Sri Lankan lecturer there.  He has been working as an Instructor for the Sinhala Service of China International Radio in Beijing Three Chinese lecturers who have graduated in Sinhala from the Beijing University of Foreign Studies are also teaching.

But the Sri Lanka embassy in China does not know Chinese. Of the 20 Sri Lankans in the Sri Lankan Embassy in China not one can speak fluent Chinese. Neither can I, said Kohona when taking up duties as ambassador to China in 2020. But he will learn Chinese as soon as possible. ( Continued)

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