October, 12, 2020
The Beijing Swift - By Prof. Samitha Hettige ©
Only when the years grows cold do we see that the pine and cypress are the last to fade; only when we get into trouble do we know who our genuine friends are – Chinese Proverb.
A high-level delegation headed by Chinese Communist Party-Political Bureau member and former Minister of Foreign of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) Yang Jiechi visited Sri Lanka recently. It was the first ever high-level delegation from the PRC to visit South Asia after the COVID-19 pandemic. They met with the President and the Prime Minister only as they had to cancel many other high-level meetings due to the prevailing situation. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a great recovery tool we can use to come out of the economic crisis we were in which got worsened after the COVID-19 pandemic. 28 plus Indian ocean rim countries have been competing promoting whatever resources they possess to attract the investments and development projects energized by the BRI. Australia is a partner of the BRI and transact with many Chinese companies. They exposed their logistically important facilities such as the Darwin Port to attract Chinese investments.
India was in the USSR camp during the cold war but now deals more with the USA. Still China and India are very active trade partners connected down the BRI through the Chennai Connect initiative. Pakistan was in the USA camp during the cold war but maintained good relations with the Peoples Republic of China. Pakistan is implementing the China Pakistan Economic Corridor reaping many benefits from the BRI. When Sri Lanka trades with the PRC many voices are heard about a debt traps and Chinese colonies. Sri Lanka started trading and cultural relations with China long ago even before Australia was added to the map. China has not maintained any colony anywhere in the world and Chinese loans only account to approx. 10% of Sri Lanka’s total loans (Ref. Chinese and SL authorities). Australia, Pakistan and India trades with PRC in much larger volumes than Sri Lanka, but none who are worried about Sri Lanka seems to be concerned about those dealings. Those who are so worried about Sri Lanka China relations should remember that Sri Lanka is a sovereign nation with a long-trusted relationship with the Chinese empire and the PRC. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa very clearly send this message to the new ambassadors from Germany, Switzerland, Vatican and South Korea who presented their credentials recently.
Former US president George W. Bush referred to the then Chinese Ambassador in USA Yang Jiechi as “Tiger Yang” as the British educated ambassador was born in 1950 (a year dedicated to the Tiger according to Chinese astrology). Sri Lankans believe that true friends are like a wall painting. They will never turn their back when a friend is in trouble. Great Chinese Empire and the PRC has proved that they are such a friend. Tiger Yang just renewed the two-thousand-year bond.
(The writer is an Academic and a Broadcaster. Views expressed are personal and may not necessarily be the views of his affiliations.)