Dimensions of the Chinese position on the political crisis in Sri Lanka

With the intensification of the political crisis in Sri Lanka following the escalation of protests against the ruling regime and its economic policies, and the accompanying chaos following the flight of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa from his country, and the protesters’ control of many government headquarters; Questions have escalated trying to identify the dimensions of the Chinese approach to these developments, and the extent to which China can overcome the current state of cautious anticipation regarding the crisis, and engage and deal with the events in an intense degree, especially since China has strengthened its influence inside Sri Lanka during the past years until it is seen as one of the main actors in the conflict. The Sri Lankan scene, not to mention the accusation that it is one of the main causes of the crisis in light of the “debt dumping” policy it adopted in recent years with Sri Lanka.

Waiting Policy

Despite the increasing Chinese presence in Sri Lanka, over the past years, the Chinese position towards the escalation of events in Sri Lanka came, after thousands of demonstrators stormed the presidential headquarters on July 9, and then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced his resignation, with a great degree of caution; Where Beijing chose to adopt a policy of waiting and waiting, and this matter appeared with the first comment of the Chinese Foreign Ministry on the events on July 11; During the daily press conference of Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin. In this context, the official Chinese position on the Sri Lankan crisis reveals a number of main dimensions:

1- Emphasizing the priority of internal stability: The term “stability” occupied a large place in the official Chinese discourse regarding the developments of the crisis inside Sri Lanka. Commenting on the crisis, during a press conference on July 11, Wang Wenbin said, “China is closely watching the latest developments in Sri Lanka. As a friendly neighbor and cooperating partner, we sincerely hope that all sectors of Sri Lanka will bear in mind the fundamental interests of their country and people, and work together in solidarity to overcome current difficulties, seek to restore stability, revitalize the economy and improve people’s livelihood at an early date.” Bean reiterated the statement of stability, on July 14, when he called on all Sri Lankan institutions and people to work jointly to “restore stability.”

2- Presenting a package of urgent aid to Sri Lanka: On July 15, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman stated that his country “attributes great importance to the difficulties and challenges facing Sri Lanka, and always provides support for social and economic development in Sri Lanka whenever possible.” Beijing plans to provide 500 million yuan (about 74 million US dollars) in emergency humanitarian aid to Sri Lanka, adding that China has also provided multiple batches of various kinds of assistance to people across Sri Lanka to improve their lives.

3- Expressing willingness to debt relief: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin announced that shortly after the Sri Lankan government announced the suspension of international debt payments, Chinese financial institutions reached out to Sri Lanka and expressed their willingness to find an effective way to deal with debts owed to China. . Wang said China is ready to work with relevant countries and international financial institutions to continue to play a role in supporting Sri Lanka and in debt relief. But estimates questioned this Chinese approach, and read it as just a political maneuver linked to developments, especially since Sri Lanka, when it addressed China regarding restructuring and rescheduling the debt, China offered to provide more debt to pay off the defaulting debts; Which contributes to more dumping of the country, according to economic estimates.

4- Promoting the positive role of China in the Sri Lankan economy: In contrast to the criticism directed at China against the backdrop of its lending policies with Sri Lanka and other developing countries, Beijing tried to promote its positive role in the Sri Lankan economy, and this appeared in an article published on July 11, In china daily, which largely expresses the official position of the Chinese regime, when the article stated that “some Western politicians with ulterior motives tried to blame China for the bad situation in Sri Lanka, claiming that its huge loans to the country had dragged it into a debt trap… but nevertheless it served its loans.” Primarily infrastructure and economic development in Sri Lanka.”

essential determinants

This Chinese position on what is happening in Sri Lanka is related to a number of main determinants that depend primarily on Chinese interests, which can be addressed as follows:

1- Countering Western anti-Chinese rhetoric:It is noteworthy that many analyzes have linked the crisis in Sri Lanka to Chinese lending policies; Whereas, one of the main considerations that led Sri Lanka to the current state of economic collapse and chaos was related to the ill-advised policy of debt adopted by the Sri Lankan authorities in recent years; This has put the country under the burden of foreign debt for many countries, especially since Sri Lanka did not benefit from these grants and debts, especially with the damage to Sri Lankan service sectors, the decline in tourism revenues, and the global recession that accompanied the Corona pandemic. In this context, China is Sri Lanka’s first external creditor; As it holds 10% of Sri Lanka’s external debt, and with the Sri Lankan authorities unable to repay these debts, China began acquiring some government assets such as the strategic port of Hambantota; Which escalated accusations leveled at China from Sri Lankan and Western circles of seeking to control Sri Lanka through the debt trap.

In this context, Beijing has sought, through its declared stance on the Sri Lankan crisis, to undermine the Western rhetoric against it, which is trying to hold China responsible for the economic crises in some developing countries, such as Sri Lanka, by dumping these countries with debts. This trend was demonstrated, for example, in the statements of the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, “Wang Wenbin,” on July 14, when he stated that “about three quarters of the debts of African countries are owed to multilateral institutions and non-Chinese private creditors.” “These facts and data show that the so-called China debt trap is just misinformation and a narrative trap created by those who do not hope to accelerate Sino-African cooperation,” he added.

2- The search for new allies in the Sri Lankan scene: It cannot be overlooked that the cautious policy adopted by Beijing towards the Sri Lankan crisis reflects, in part, Beijing’s fear of possible shifts in the political forces controlling the scene inside Sri Lanka, especially that the Rajapaksa family was very close to Beijing, and then worked to enhance Chinese influence in the country by granting it many projects. In addition to this, it seems that China is feeling its steps at the present time to search for new allies inside Sri Lanka through which it can maintain Chinese influence and avoid harming its interests, or in other words, maintaining the Chinese presence in the country at the very least to know the fate of Chinese loans and projects within the country. Sri Lanka.

3- Absorbing the internal anger at the Chinese role: This is an important determinant that explains – at least in part – the cautious policy adopted by Beijing towards the crisis in Sri Lanka. After the overthrow of the Sri Lankan president, criticism of the Chinese role in Sri Lanka intensified, especially from the opposition. For example, Sri Lankan opposition MP Harini Amarasuriya indicated in a press statement to Akhbar Alan on July 17 that Chinese projects in the country have a major role in the crisis. She considered that “these projects did not achieve any financial returns, but rather created a structural problem based on changing the lifestyle of Sri Lankans in a way that contradicts the reality of their reality.” Amarasuriya pointed out that “these Chinese projects did not contribute to supporting the country’s economy.”

Beijing has sought to absorb and absorb this internal anger by announcing the provision of an urgent aid package to Sri Lanka, and Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin revealed Beijing’s willingness to find an effective way to deal with debts owed to China, and work with countries and international financial institutions to continue Play a positive role in supporting Sri Lanka and in debt relief.

4- Continuing dynamics of the struggle for influence with India: China is not likely to stray too far from what is happening in Sri Lanka; for considerations related to the dynamics of the struggle for influence with India; The past years have witnessed intense efforts by both parties to expand their spheres of influence within Sri Lanka. India views Sri Lanka as one of its areas of vital influence and as a cultural and historical extension of it, and perhaps this was confirmed by the statement of the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on July 10, which stressed India’s standing by the Sri Lankan people, adding: “India is the closest neighbor to Sri Lanka, and our two countries share ties in profound civilization.

On the other hand, China deals with Sri Lanka as an important domain for its regional moves aimed, in part, at undermining Indian influence and weakening the regional presence of New Delhi. Hence, these data will remain an important determinant of Chinese policy towards Sri Lanka, which means that it will not leave Sri Lanka in the post-“Gotabaya Rajapaksa” stage for India to devote a single influence there.

5- Fear of repeating the Sri Lankan model in other regions: Beijing does not view with great satisfaction what is happening in Sri Lanka; For two main considerations; The first is the stable principle in Chinese foreign policy based on the rejection of any overthrow of ruling regimes; Because it means – in one way or another – finding more precedents and reference cases in international relations that can be used as an approach against the governments of other countries, including China, which is exposed, from time to time, to Western criticism over human rights issues.

The second consideration relates to the possibility of replicating the Sri Lankan model in other developing countries that have economic relations with Beijing; The current international economic crisis is imposing enormous pressures on many countries in Africa and Asia, countries with which China has worked over the past years to build extensive economic and political relations, especially through the gateway to lending and debt. Hence, the possibility of a repetition of the Sri Lankan scenario in many of these countries will certainly lead to disastrous results for China; Because it puts it in more ambiguous positions, whether with regard to how to pay the debts owed to it, or even with regard to its political influence, which may diminish due to the change of ruling regimes.

 In conclusion, it can be said that the current Chinese approach in dealing with the Sri Lankan crisis is dominated by “caution and anticipation,” which is due to the unwillingness to get involved in the political crises of neighboring countries, and the assessments that China’s priorities in the current period are heading towards the south East Asia and Africa, but the Sri Lankan and Western circles of the crisis in order to pressure China and distort its image, may prompt Beijing to play a greater role at the level of the current Sri Lankan crisis, in order to maintain its presence and influence in Sri Lanka, especially since the latter is considered important for the Belt and Road Initiative Chinese.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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