EDITORIAL | Help Sri Lanka, but ask to eliminate China’s influence on the military and politics

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe of Sri Lanka, an Indian Ocean island nation on the brink of economic crisis, has expressed his desire to ask Japan to help him get the country out of its serious debt problems through talks debt restructuring and other measures.

The main driver of the crisis has been the personalization of politics by the former president’s family, backed by Chinese funds. Sri Lanka is a typical example of a country that has fallen into the “China debt trap”, where it has fallen heavily into debt due to Chinese loans that it cannot repay and has finally ceded its national interests to China to repay the loans.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to actively reach out to Sri Lanka on the condition that the country eliminates China’s influence on its military and domestic policy. The country is suffering from food and energy shortages, and there is not a moment to lose.

Different approaches to support

If Tokyo is able to help Sri Lanka out of its crisis, it could highlight the difference in philosophy between Japan and China when it comes to aid and funding for developing countries.

Prime Minister Kishida delivered a keynote address at the eighth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD8), held in the North African country of Tunisia on August 27-28. He said, “We are focused on investing in people and growing quality.”

Japan assists developing countries in terms of hardware, such as facilities and goods, and software, such as human resource development tools. Indeed, Tokyo has a well-established reputation for providing aid that responds to the needs of recipient developing countries.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, poses for the media before his meeting with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo, Sri Lanka, January 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena, File)

Attraction of large Chinese loans

The problem in developing countries today is that many regimes are attracted to China’s massive loans because there is little risk of being reprimanded for their excessive finances or their disregard for human rights. .

For this reason, TICAD8 clarified its position against China’s aid methods in the final document. He noted the importance of “sound development financing that respects international rules and standards.” He also emphasized “an environment that is not based on unfair and opaque funding”. It is quite appropriate.

Yuan Wang 5, a Chinese scientific research vessel under the Chinese military, arrives at the port of Hambantota, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

The example of the port of Hambantota

The port of Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka was developed under the leadership of the former president’s family with Chinese assistance. However, five years ago the Sri Lankan government, burdened by high interest rates, transferred the 99-year-old right to operate the port to China in return for debt repayment.

In August, a Chinese military survey vessel arrived in port, causing major unrest.

China has said its military will not use port facilities it acquired as concessions in countries to which it provides aid, when the concessions are in exchange for debt repayment. Ultimately, however, China appears to be aiming to create a new military base.

We must share our apprehension with many countries about China’s ambition for maritime hegemony.

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(Read this editorial in Japanese on this link.)

Author: editorial board, The Sankei Shimbun

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