China Seeks To Cultivate Sri Lanka Ties But Without International Reproach
While China is not a Commonwealth country, its presence was still felt: Beijing funded the new US$292 million highway that whisked delegates from the airport, and Beijing’s largesse to Sri Lanka has extended to the building of hotels, power plants and a 35,000-seat cricket stadium. In his closing speech at the summit, Rajapaksa thanked China for helping to defray the cost of post-war reconstruction with US$1.055 billion in loans and US$16 million in grants last year. China has funded several infrastructure projects, railways, highways, harbours, a coal-fired power plant and a new international airport, at an estimated cost of US$4 billion, according to Xinhua.
If anything could convince Colombo to take human rights seriously, it might well be the threat of falling out with Beijing. China is Colombo’s biggest giver of credit and aid, with a credit line that has become essential to the resurrection of Sri Lanka’s economy from the twin disasters of war and the 2004 tsunami. Despite Rajapaksa’s reputation for corruption and nepotism, Sri Lanka became a favoured investment destination for Chinese companies under Beijing’s “going out policy”, which encourages overseas investment.
The love story began before the war ended. With its own border regions inhabited by restive ethnic minorities, Beijing might have sympathised with Sri Lanka’s acts against the Tigers, but even then its friendship seemed mostly materialistic. Chinese arms sales have amounted to US$1.8 billion, and by 2007 several major infrastructure deals, such as Hambantota harbour, had been mapped out. In exchange, Beijing has afforded its diplomatic clout to Colombo, with China’s UN Security Council veto protecting Sri Lanka from intervention by the international community during the conflict.
Beijing’s fondness for regimes with less-than-perfect human rights records is nothing new. It has consorted with the leaders of the military regimes of Burma, Sudan and North Korea.
Read more in the South China Morning Post