The last day of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s official visit to China ended on a high note. On April 9, Sri Lanka’s “Colombo Post” reported that the two countries issued a joint statement expressing “the hope of developing an all-weather friendship”. Wickremesinghe called this an “important visit” and “a visit to discuss and determine the framework for future bilateral cooperation”.
In the Joint statement, the Sri Lankan side announced its approval for resumption of construction of the Colombo port city project and agreed to facilitate and support the implementation of the project. They also expressed hope for the Chinese enterprises to continue cooperation in other big projects. On April 9, Sri Lanka’s “The Island” newspaper reported that a high-powered committee has been set up by the country to ensure that all the projects and investment by Chinese are implemented smoothly and with despatch. Reuters reported on April 10 that during the official visit, the Sri Lankan government requested Beijing to waive off their $8 billion debt so that by using debt-equity swap method,, their debt can be converted into equity shares. Wickremesinghe, in a press conference on April 9, said that “the Chinese companies holding debts can become shareholders in the port city project.” However, he mentioned only about welcoming capital from Chinese enterprises for “debt to equity” and didn’t give any other explanation in the regard.
China and Sri Lanka are showing interest in involving India as well. The Indian media has been continuously tracking reports from this visit. According to the Hindu, in addition to reinforcing relations in the areas of finance, science and technology and culture, China and Sri Lanka also plan to cooperate in areas of ports, airports, roads and railway construction. Both the countries have already signed a priority purchase credit agreement to raise a loan for the project to extend the expressway line from the capital Colombo to Matara, the biggest city in the South. This is again a “sign” of China-Sri Lanka cooperation in infrastructure development.
According to an article in Hong Kong’s Asia Times by former Indian diplomat Badal Kumar, the purpose of Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s visit was to promote bilateral economic partnership, especially in the area of infrastructure investment. This is a part of China’s New Silk Road initiative. Wickremesinghe’s visit made it clear that even with a regime change, there is no guarantee that India’s neighbors will not embrace the “One Belt, One Road” initiatuve. From a geopolitical point of view, Beijing’s next move in Sri Lanka will have a far-reaching effect on India’s security interests.
A Times of India report published on April 10 claimed that due to commercial and military considerations, China has been looking to enter into the Indian Ocean sea lanes. India is constantly concerned that Sri Lanka will pave the way for China to enter the Indian ocean. However Wickremesinghe, in China, emphasized that, “our policy is to make Sri Lanka the economic center of the Indian Ocean” by accepting both “One Belt, One Road” and “Make in India”.