The recently-concluded elections in Sri Lanka was widely covered in the Chinese media, an indication of the strategic interest of Beijing in the island nation and the Indian Ocean Region
The recently-concluded elections in Sri Lanka was widely covered in the Chinese media, an indication of the strategic interest of Beijing in the island nation and the Indian Ocean Region. Before the elections, the reports which came out in Chinese media clearly showed the preference towards Gotabaya Rajapaksa, now President, over Sajith Premadasa, his main rival, and in some headlines and news stories the Rajapaksas were termed as "China-friendly", "China tilting" etc. The articles reflected the preference reflecting their hope that the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa will steer the island nation closer to China. The experts in the articles - who were largely Chinese academics and strategic experts - wrote in their pieces that they expect that the election of Gotabaya - and his brother Mahinda as Prime Minister - may also lead to the resuming of Chinese projects such as Port City and others in Sri Lanka.
The post-election coverage of most of the news sites reported about the polarization of votes. The reports carried stories that how the majority Sinhala-Buddhist community voted en bloc for the Rajapaksas while the minority Muslims and Tamils voted for Premadasa. The Chinese media, generally, was very upbeat about the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa and reported about the heydays of the Sri Lanka-China relations when Mahinda Rajapaksa was President. The news reports also discussed the projects and investment which were made by China in Sri Lanka under the previous Rajapaksa regime.
Gotabaya’s visit to India was widely covered and his statements related to balancing ties between India and China were mentioned in the news report. Also, some Indian experts' views were reported and, in one such report, Jabin T Jacob was quoted as saying that he was expecting Gotabaya Rajapaksa to visit China in the first 100 days of his tenure when China will offer goodies to win over the new President. Soon after taking over Gotabaya met China’s ambassador to Sri Lanka, Cheng Xueyuan, and told him he will visit Beijing soon.
The Hambantota project again was written about as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa wants to undo the port lease to Chinese ventures citing national interest. Many reports focused on how this port can be beneficial to Sri Lanka in harnessing wealth due to its strategic location in the Indian Ocean Region. President Rajapaksa, in his interview with The Hindu in India, was quoted as saying that Sri Lanka’s relation with China was purely commercial. He also asked other countries to invest in Sri Lanka; or else the Chinese will take the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) all over the island and Colombo will have no alternative.
From the media reports, it can be concluded that China is looking very hopeful in rebuilding Beijing-Colombo relations under the new dispensation. It is expected by Beijing that the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa will give a fresh impetus to bilateral relations.
(The writer is with the Vivekananda International Foundation)