Generosity or part of the plan?
Xi Jinping, President of China, has offered Sri Lanka a fresh grant of 2 billion yuan ($295 million), as Beijing looks to expand its influence in the tiny island country off India’s southern tip. This may seem like a random movie by China, but is, in fact, a very calculated and well-thought out decision by the Chinese president. It also may be the start of Panda Diplomacy, something China is very famous for. Panda Diplomacy refers to China's use of giant pandas as diplomatic gifts to other countries. The practice existed as far back as the Tang Dynasty when Empress Wu Zetian sent a pair of pandas to the Japanese emperor. Sri Lanka isn’t a very wealthy nation by any means, and 2 billion yuan is sure to help the nation develop. President Maithripala Sirisena of Sri Lanka, a partner in Beijing’s multi-country Belt and Road infrastructure, made the announcement on Saturday at a ceremony to mark the start of a Chinese-funded kidney hospital in his hometown of Polonnaruwa, 230 km from the major city of Colombo. He stated that he plans to use the money to “build houses in all the electorates in the country”.
However, many countries around the world fear that China is trying to use Sri Lanka as a satellite nation. There are many reasons why people think that China is, in fact, trying to influence the tiny island. China was among the first countries that stepped in to help the reconstruction of Sri Lanka after a 26-year-long civil war ended in 2009. Furthermore, many of Beijing’s projects (backed by the Chinese government and initialized by Sirisena’s government), have set off alarms all around the globe, hinting at China’s plan to use Sri Lanka as a military base. In addition, China also docked a navy submarine in Colombo in 2014, which led to a prompt response by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PM Modi severely boosted his ties with Sri Lanka in an attempt to discourage Chinese influence and in turn gain Indian influence. Prime Minister Modi also fought his way back into the Indian Ocean, substantially hurting Chinese dominance in the waters. Sri Lanka owes upwards of $8 billion to state-owned Chinese firms, so it is no surprise to see how dominant Chinese presence is in Sri Lanka.
Xi Jinping may have turned over a new leaf and had a sudden change of heart to gift Sri Lanka money. But the odds of that are very slim, and might even be impossible. The Chinese president is no fool, and every decision he makes is well-calculated and well-thought out. The world is sure that Xi Jinping is planning something, but all they can do is just sit and watch. Sri Lanka owes too much to China to try and eradicate their presence, and they should not if China keeps giving them these types of “gifts”. China is fully aware of the consequences of this move, and do not seem to be that worried. They know they control everything that goes in and out of Sri Lanka.