China’s Defense Minister to begin three-day visit to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka
Photo: Atul Loke/Bloomberg

China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe will begin a three day visit to Sri Lanka today.

Wei’s visit comes as Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court is fielding some 20 petitions against a legislative bill which would grant China control over the port city in Colombo. Beijing has spent $1.4 billion to develop the port as part of its larger accumulation of economic influence through the Belt and Road Initiative. Petitioners wary of a repetition of the Hambantota incident fear the creation of a de facto Chinese colony, loss of national sovereignty, violations of labor laws and preference being given to Chinese workers over Sri Lankans.

Despite civil opposition, expect Wei to encourage President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s near-absolute exercise of power towards allowing China’s success in securing administrative rights over the port city. Rajapaksa will likely become increasingly desperate in the short- to medium-term for a financial lifeline as Colombo weathers pandemic-depleted tourism revenue and record-low currency values. In the long-term, expect a continuation of the pattern that trails China’s big-wallet diplomacy: After China recently granted a new $500 billion loan to Sri Lanka, its debt will surely increase, further incentivizing debt forgiveness in exchange for granting China control over the infrastructure projects it financed.

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