ISSN 2330-717X

The Sri-Lanka-China Relationship: A Print Media Analysis


By Priyakala Manoharan

China’s deepening relationship with Sri Lanka is becoming increasingly conspicuous as the emerging super power extends relations beyond its sphere of influence. This paper brings out the Sri Lankan perceptions of the unconditional and timely help of China for Sri Lanka’s overall development. Some of prominent Sri Lankan newspapers have been referred to gauge the general Sri Lankan outlook. The relevant questions in this context are the factors driving Sri Lanka towards China and whether China’s unlimited help to Sri Lanka is with or without strings attached.

Political relations

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s contemporary relations with China have been strengthened as never before. The state owned Sunday Observer (‘China-Sri Lanka’s top lender in 2009’, 18 April 2010) has commented that “silky relationship has reached new heights during the Rajapaksha era.” Historically, Sri Lanka and China have been recorded to be on friendly terms. However, the ties have reached a peak level, especially under the administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksha. Tamil Guardian (‘India’s troubles in Sri Lanka’, 4 December 2010) shared a similar view, acknowledging that “Rajapaksha has visited China five times in office and thrice before.”

The Sri Lankan president decided to shift the foreign policy ‘eastward’ after persistent human-rights abuse allegations by the West (‘Sri Lanka looks east to China for funding and support’, The National, 11 March 2010). This has drifted Lanka closer to China. China has so far practiced a policy of not mixing business with politics in its foreign relations with Sri Lanka (‘China fuels Sri Lankan War’, 7 March 2009); this has given Lanka a freer atmosphere to preserve its sovereignty and autonomy and made China’s presence conducive in the Island. However, China did go out of its way to encourage the Sri Lankan government’s interest to end the protracted war, as reports (7 March 2009). China wanted stability on the island which served its fundamental aspirations and interests as an emerging superpower. “China stood as a support force when Sri Lanka needed help to combat terrorism” (‘Marking 55 years of Diplomatic Relations – Sri Lanka and China’, The Nation, 25 May 2012). Accordingly, sophisticated weaponry supplied by China was the key to the government’s military success.

The Defense Minister Gotabhaya in ‘China-Lanka agree to deepen military ties’ (16 September 2010, Adaderana) said that “the government and armed forces of Sri Lanka appreciated China’s support and would continue to advance friendly and cooperative relations between the two nations and the two armed forces.” “China has also used its veto power in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to block the discussion on steps undertaken by the Sri Lankan government in its fight against the LTTE” as reported by The National (‘Growing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka’, 8 June 2011). China defended Sri Lanka against the aggressive Western push for war crimes allegations committed by the Sri Lankan military during the final phase of the war.

Economic relations

Apart from the growing political and diplomatic relationship, Sri Lanka is able to reap the benefits of close economic cooperation with China. The Lanka Journal Newspaper (‘Sri Lanka says China’s “win-win” philosophy benefits world’, 21 November 2011) carried an article detailing that “China is the leading investor in Sri Lanka and involved in building highways, bridges, a new shipping port and airport as well as a high tech theater.” In the post war period, improvements in infrastructural development and investments from China in Sri Lanka have been seen to increase. These commercial transactions have created a win-win deal for both countries. Significantly, “Beijing has decided to grant Sri Lanka dialogue partner status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)” (‘Growing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka’, The National, 8 June 2011).

Counter views against China’s inroad into Sri Lanka depicted in News.LK ( ‘Minister Basil counter the criticisms of the UNP MP, 1 February 2012) express alarm that the growing Chinese work force in the Chinese projects and the flooding of Sri Lankan markets with cheap and sub-standard Chinese products were detrimental to the progress of the nation. In addition, China’s priority is on maritime security to secure energy supplies. Hence, the island has become a key strategic hub for China. On economic, military and diplomatic ties, Dr. Harsha de Silva, Member of Parliament, opined that “Sri Lanka-China relations was in bad taste and made with dangerous political twist” (News.LK, 1 February 2012).

Based on these views, the policy of harmony and China’s deep pockets are vital signs of Sri Lanka shifting closer to China’s orbit. Sri Lanka is fulsome in its praise for Beijing because it did not desert Sri Lanka in recent critical phases. Despite the end of fighting, Sri Lanka confronted a deepening economic crisis due to huge debts arising from military spending. It sought help from the West but the request was denied on the basis of its deteriorating human rights record. However, the Chinese willingly lent a helping hand in this asymmetric relationship. This even eclipsed Sri Lanka’s biggest donor, Japan, and created a scenario to counter Western concerns about human rights.

Priyakala Manoharan
Research Intern, IPCS
email: [email protected]

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IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

7 thoughts on “The Sri-Lanka-China Relationship: A Print Media Analysis

  • June 5, 2012 at 3:41 am

    China is accepted as a friend not only by the government but by the ordinary people. Thus she is accepted as a true friend. On the other hand India and the west are considered enemies because of their hegemony.

  • June 5, 2012 at 4:18 am

    China showed how a true friend acts in a difficult moment. A good lesson to India and the west for whom only thier interests matters.

  • June 5, 2012 at 6:17 am

    China has always been a true friend of Sri Lanka going bsck to the historic ‘rubber-rice’ pact in the fiftiees unlike India which is a double-dealing bystander!

  • June 5, 2012 at 7:12 am

    srilankan people never forget who was is and will be our friends and enemies act like frineds.
    india train and feed give shelter to LTTE terrorirst to destabilize srilanka
    even now india training ltte terrorist to fight against srilanka.
    in 1989 srilanka army only 50 km to capture vadmarachi india send mig 29 to support ltte terrorist and force srilanka to stop the war and give life libe for LTTE.
    without china help india and west and usa try to do the same thing 2009 but china and russia help srilanka to counter west and india

    • June 5, 2012 at 11:51 pm

      yes srilanka should allow china t have air base in palai and naval base in trincomale and sign difence pact pakistan asking long time with pakistan.
      without super power in srilanka side srilanka cannot survive. as example libya try to be usa and west friend. usa and west put him into a trash can. other hand siriya have strong ties with russia asad still in power thanks to russia,
      if mahinda wants to develop and stay in power he need to sign difence pact with russia and pakistan

  • June 5, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    China and Russia, the current superpowers are friends of Sri Lanka. With the USA planning to increase its naval fleet in Asia (which is none of their business), it is time for China and Russia to have Naval bases in Trincomalee and Hambantota.

  • June 5, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    when ltte attack and captured the elephant pass 50000 to 75000 srilankan soilders under ltte attack srilanka government ask INDIA help our beloved next door neighbour refuse to help srilanka insted india offer srilanka move al srilankan soliders from north.
    at the same time our reall friends china and pakistan unconditionally help srilanka, china and pakistan gave weapons free to counter ltte attack.
    india help srilanka to go 100 back by helping ltte, we srilankans always remember china and pakistan always with SRILANKA,.
    When china or pakistan need our help we need to help them not to bankcrupt india,


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