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China-Sri Lanka ties transcend partisan politics

By Yu Ning

Sri Lanka’s parliamentary election concluded on Tuesday, with the United National Party (UNP) edging out its rival, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). Mahinda Rajapaksa, former president and the UPFA’s candidate for prime minister conceded defeat.
The election has drawn considerable attention as it was viewed as a comeback bid by Rajapaksa. It is also of great significance to Sri Lanka’s political stability and to whether the reform launched by President Maithripala Sirisena would be disrupted.
Since Rajapaksa announced his run, some Western and Indian media have deliberately portrayed him as “Beijing’s preferred candidate” and highlighted that his defeat would be frustrating for Beijing. When the allegedly pro-China former president was unseated by Sirisena in January, there was also speculation that the change of government would pose challenges to Sino-Sri Lankan ties and particularly for the Chinese investments in the country.
Although partisan politics may have a certain effect on bilateral ties, it’s inappropriate to exaggerate the influence. To consolidate high-level strategic cooperation with China has gained bipartisan backing in Sri Lanka’s parliament. No matter which party takes power, it will maintain a good relationship with China.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, the incumbent prime minister and who just won enough seats for a second term, told the Financial Times that the UNP would continue to deepen investment ties with China if it retained power. President Sirisena has reiterated on different occasions the importance of Sri Lanka’s relationship with China and called the world’s second-largest economy “a close partner.”

China-Sri Lanka ties
Over the past decade, Chinese investment and other kinds of support have played a critical role in stabilizing the country and driving its economy forward. Although the Sirisena government is recalibrating its foreign policy and seeking a balanced approach in handling relations with big powers, China cannot be avoided. It’s only the outsiders’ wishful thinking that partisan politics will stagnate or even turn back China-Sri Lanka relations. China will also not depend on any single party to maintain the bilateral relationship.
Wickremesinghe retained his power in the parliamentary election, which means the current political framework and power structure will be sustained. The government is expected to gradually resume the suspended foreign-invested projects for the needs of economic development. In March, Sri Lanka suspended a $1.4 billion Chinese-invested port project for review along with other foreign cooperation projects. Earlier this month, Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake said in an interview with Reuters that Sri Lanka hopes to negotiate a “win-win” compromise that would allow the suspended Chinese projects to resume after months of delays.

Source Global Times

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