The race came down to the wire, but today Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa conceded to Maithripala Sirisena. It marks the end of a decade of Rajapaksa’s rule, under which Sri Lanka grew increasingly close with China. Bloomberg reports:
The [election] result, considered improbable just two months ago, risks disrupting President Xi Jinping’s moves to increase China’s presence in the Indian Ocean. China has invested heavily in Sri Lanka over the past decade and supported Rajapaksa in the face of U.S.-led inquiries into human rights abuses allegedly committed during the end of a 26-year civil war. […]Under Rajapaksa, China became the island’s top investor, biggest government lender and second-biggest trading partner. Xi visited Sri Lanka last year to promote his so-called Silk Road trade route rejuvenation project, which is backed by a $40 billion infrastructure fund and includes a maritime route encompassing the island.Chinese government lending to Sri Lanka increased 50-fold over the past decade to $490 million in 2012, more than double the combined amount from the U.S. as well as allied governments and lending agencies. Growing economic ties have spurred military cooperation: China last year sent submarines twice to dock in the capital Colombo, triggering protests from India.
China’s President Xi was willing to invest so heavily in Sri Lanka because its longtime friendship was an asset for a China whose ambitions are being increasingly checked by India and by its rivals in the South China Sea. That’s because Colombo was key to his “string of pearls” strategy, a plan to establish a series of friendly ports and bases that enabled Beijing to project naval power farther afield and to ensure fast and safe sea trade across the Indian Ocean region. Now that plan may have met a setback:
National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, a group that promotes ethnic reconciliation.
China certainly won’t give up on Sri Lanka and walk away from its investments, but this could be a serious loss for Beijing’s strategy. Like a chain, a string of pearls is only as strong as its weakest link.