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Game of Thrones
China Backs Sri Lanka on Human Rights

In the last days of the Sri Lankan civil war four years ago, the national army heavily bombarded areas controlled by the rebels. Low on supplies and ammunition, the army confined the rebels to an increasingly small area in the northern part of the island. During the final bombardment, human rights groups allege, the army indiscriminately shelled areas where civilians were taking shelter. In one onslaught, an artillery shell ripped through civilians waiting in line to get a bowl of rice porridge from charity workers.

The Sri Lankan government has stonewalled efforts by human rights groups to investigate the end of the country’s brutal, multi-decade civil war. About 40,000 civilians were killed in the last few months alone, the UN alleges. Lately, the UN Human Rights Council has taken the lead on pushing the Sri Lankan government to allow independent investigators to pursue these allegations. The United States and India have been particularly supportive of this effort.

China, however, has thrown its considerable weight into defending Sri Lanka. “China opposes some countries’ interference in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka under the pretext of human rights issues,” the Foreign Minister said yesterday. “We believe in the Sri Lankan people’s wisdom and capacity to handle their own affairs.”

China’s influence in Sri Lanka has grown over recent years at India’s expense. India and Sri Lanka share a long history of cultural, linguistic, and religious ties, but ever since the ethnic Sinhalese government of Sri Lanka began cracking down ferociously on the Tamil insurgency, India and Sri Lanka have grown further apart. Part of this is the result of large and influential population of ethnic Tamils within India. The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa, one of the most powerful political figures in India, has been instrumental in pushing Delhi to accuse the Sri Lankan government of human rights violations.

As India and Sri Lanka grow further apart, China has been more than happy to step in. What could be better for China than a friendly nation on India’s doorstep? Sri Lanka’s geographic position off the southern tip of one of China’s greatest regional rivals, combined with its excellent capacity for naval and merchant marine facilities, makes for an attractive friend as China seeks to expand its influence in South Asia.

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