As Burma emerges slowly from its decades-old tight embrace with China and countries across Asia turn to the U.S. for help in balancing against China’s muscle, China is starting to look a little lonely. Even Cambodia and Laos are showing Washington a little affection. The Hermit Kingdom of North Korea remains a true friend; Pakistan might wish it and China were best buds, but the Chinese seem to think it better to keep the generals in Islamabad at arm’s length. Beijing need not despair: there is a new candidate for BFF emerging in the Indian Ocean, right on rival India’s doorstep.When the government of Sri Lanka brutally ended the long war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, it did so with military equipment from China. And as Sri Lanka rebuilds damaged infrastructure and embarks on vast upgrade projects like a deep-sea port and surrounding “port city” in the Colombo Harbor, it is finding that Chinese companies are more than happy to put up the cash.Bolstering the friendship is Colombo’s sense that India and the U.S. are no longer looking out for Sri Lankan interests. During the civil war, both Washington and New Delhi muted their criticism of atrocities by government forces — in part because the tactics of the guerrillas in that war were so appalling. But then the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution that tasked Sri Lanka with “promoting reconciliation and accountability,” with both the U.S. and India supporting the measure against Sri Lanka’s protests.China didn’t go there, and the Chinese are now building and funding a number of big infrastructure projects, many of which are ports that will strengthen the China-Sri Lanka maritime economic and military relationship.Meanwhile, reports the Washington Post, the Sri Lankan government is becoming increasingly autocratic and corrupt. Several prominent journalists and opposition activists have disappeared, and those that remain are intimidated into self-censorship. After a landslide victory in the 2010 elections, President Rajapaksa changed the constitution to give him control over the police and judiciary, and he abolished the two-term limit on presidents. A handful of family members hold some of the most powerful positions in government and big business.Domestically and internationally, Rajapaksa seems to have the room he needs to solidify his position. China isn’t worried about crackdowns on the opposition. The U.S. and especially India are fearful of driving Sri Lanka firmly into China’s sphere. Officials from both Washington and New Delhi say their governments are determined to retain close relationships with Colombo.
Game of Thrones: Sri Lanka Emerges as China’s New Best Friend