By Hu Weijia (Global Times, 23 July 2018) – China’s business presence in Sri Lanka has once again attracted public attention as the South Asian country’s President Maithripala Sirisena was quoted by media reports as saying that China has given a grant of 2 billion yuan ($295 million) to be utilized for any project of his choosing.
Sirisena reportedly made the announcement at a ceremony to mark the launch of construction of a China-funded kidney hospital in his home constituency of Polonnaruwa.
This generous financing has triggered concerns about whether there is a secret agreement between China and Sirisena.
The news comes as China’s increasing presence in Sri Lanka is making some countries worried. Although China is looking to strengthen its cooperation with the island country through the Belt and Road (B&R) initiative, its economic cooperation does not target any third party, including India and Japan.
With a strategic location along a key international trade route, the country has some inherent advantages to make itself a regional logistics hub, but only a policy of nonalignment can help the country achieve its goal of boosting trade with numerous countries. China will not bribe Sri Lanka with 2 billion yuan and a hospital in a bid to persuade the government to give Chinese companies more benefits.
China has no intention of interfering in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka. Chinese loans and investment reflect market-driven commercial behavior in line with international practices, instead of political deals between Beijing and Sri Lankan leaders.
The 25,917-square-meter kidney hospital will not only benefit the people in Sirisena’s home constituency of Polonnaruwa but the entire island country. The reason why the hospital is being constructed in Polonnaruwa is that the region has the highest number of patients with chronic kidney diseases in Sri Lanka.
China has no secret agreement with Sirisena, but China will give full respect to its partner’s needs in economic cooperation. It is quite natural to see Chinese loans being utilized for projects chosen by the local government or local people.
Sri Lanka is a key point along the B&R route. Although bilateral cooperation has caused some controversy, China is expected to further improve economic cooperation with the country, which is situated along one of the world’s busiest sea routes. All countries in the region are likely to gain from efforts to promote integration and open up new trade routes.
The author is a reporter with the Global Times. [email protected]