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New Sri Lankan president visits China despite campaign opposition to Beijing

March 26, 2015 - CHINA

Sri Lanka's new president, Maithripala Sirisena, visits Beijing in an effort to reassure the country's biggest lender.

Ties with China flourished under his predecessor, and during his campaign Sirisena indicated he would distance his country from Beijing. The visit suggests second thoughts. It also risks a setback in improving relations with Delhi, which is said to view China's growing footprint in Sri Lanka as part of an encirclement strategy to contain India.

Forbes magazine, which reported India's concerns about Chinese-Sri Lankan ties, adds that Delhi sees Beijing using its huge economic influence in Sri Lanka to secure a military presence there.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Colombo on March 13, the first bilateral visit to the country by an Indian premier in over 25 years, offering enticements aimed at helping Sirisena resist pressure from Beijing.

In one deal made with Sirisena's pro-Beijing predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, China is upgrading Colombo's airport. Another involves China building a new city and deep-water port in Hambantota, to create an outlet for China's merchant shipping and navy. Forbes notes that the port will be part of the "string of pearls" that China is building through Burma, Pakistan and elsewhere, with the aim of securing its opening to the Indian Ocean. The project feeds India's fears of encirclement.

Sri Lanka's China Dilemma (Forbes 22 Feb 2015)

A New Era for India-Sri Lanka Relations? (The Diplomat 26 Feb 2015)

Date written/update: 2015-02-27