BEIJING: As a sense of unease prevailed here over defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka’s Parliamentary polls blunting Beijing’s influence in the Indian Ocean region, Chinese official media asserted that “China cannot be avoided” because its ties with Colombo transcended “partisan politics”.
While Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post headlined its report ‘Sri Lanka’s pro-China ex-president Rajapaksa concedes defeat’, highlighting the strategic significance of the poll result, the state-run Global Times blamed the Western and Indian media for attributing pro-China image to Rajapaksa.
It was during his tenure that Lanka had secured about USD five billion loans from China for strategic projects.
“Although the President (Maithripala) Sirisena government is recalibrating its foreign policy and seeking a balanced approach in handling relations with big powers, China cannot be avoided. It’s only the outsiders’ wishful thinking that partisan politics will stagnate or even turn back China-Sri Lanka relations. China will also not depend on any single party to maintain the bilateral relationship.
“Since Rajapaksa announced his run, some Western and Indian media have deliberately portrayed him as ‘Beijing’s preferred candidate’ and highlighted that his defeat would be frustrating for Beijing,” the Global Times said.
When the allegedly pro-China Rajapaksa “was unseated by Sirisena in January, there was also speculation that the change of government would pose challenges to Sino-Lankan ties and particularly for the Chinese investments in the country”, it said.
“Although partisan politics may have a certain effect on bilateral ties, it’s inappropriate to exaggerate the influence. To consolidate high-level strategic cooperation with China has gained bipartisan backing in Sri Lanka’s parliament. No matter which party takes power, it will maintain a good relationship with China,” it said.
Besides the anxieties over the costly projects, China is concerned over the future of its mega Maritime Silk Road project in the Indian Ocean for which Rajapaksa was first to announce support in 2014 before his defeat overriding India’s reservations over apprehensions that the Chinese project is detrimental to its strategic interests in the Indian Ocean.
The Sirisena government while welcoming the project has called for specific details of its implementation.
The Global Times commentary hoped that the new government will gradually resume the suspended
foreign-invested projects including the controversial USD 1.4 billion Chinese-invested Colombo Port city project, it said.
It was suspended by Sirisena government to review its environmental impact and to re-negotiate clauses like ownership of land by Chinese firms.
The commentary pointed Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake’s recent interview in which he had said Lanka hopes to negotiate a “win-win” compromise that would allow the suspended Chinese projects to resume after months of delays.