Taking bilateral relations to a new level:
Ushering in China-Sri Lanka friendship to the 21st Century
Sri Lanka's relations with China date back to over 2000 years. Since
the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1957, the China - Sri Lanka
friendship has seen an upward movement. In the beginning, the leaders
were focused mainly on maintaining warm personal and political relations
between the two countries.
A tourist attraction in China
During Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike's period, when border
issues between India and China showed signs of armed confrontation,
Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike personally met the leaders of the
two countries to successfully bring about conciliation. The bonds of
friendship were further strengthened by an array of State visits by
leaders of both countries. Premier Zhou Enlai visited Sri Lanka twice in
1957 and 1964. Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike visited China in
1963 and 1972. The people of China still hold Prime Minister
Bandaranaike in very high esteem.
China is one of the countries that came to assist Sri Lanka in
numerous ways. She has become the top lender of Sri Lanka for year 2009
with US$ 1.2 billion worth of assistance in the form of grants, loans
and credit. The Hambantota Port development project, Norochcholai Coal
Power project and the development of the Colombo-Katunayake Expressway
are some of the many mega projects which are under way.
The Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) and
Sirimavo Bandaranaike Memorial Exhibition Centre bear ample testimony
for the excellent relationship between the two countries. The BMICH was
built at a cost of around Rs. 35 million in 1971. The Supreme Courts
complex that was built during President J.R. Jayewardene's time was an
embodiment of the success of the China-Sri Lanka relations. Furthermore,
construction of modern National Performing Arts Theatre, a Rs. 3,080
million project, is well under way at the Nomads Grounds in Colombo.
The Rajapaksa era had been credited to take the largely political
relationship to a political and economy-based relationship and also had
been identified with a more people-oriented approach towards these
efforts. One of the main areas of focus of people-oriented bilateral
relations had been the youth centred co-operation with China.
This article attempts to discuss how China has, over the past several
years, been able to mobilise the youth to support the massive
development drive in China and also how cooperation between the youth of
Sri Lanka and China could benefit the two nations' relationship and the
development of Sri Lanka.
Mobilising the youth
With the rapid development of political, economic, educational,
scientific and cultural activities in the Chinese society, Chinese youth
have been playing increasingly important roles in all walks of life.
China has always attached great importance to the positive roles played
by the youth in socio-economic development and has thus provided them
with strong policy and financial support.
In the past 20 years in particular, the Chinese central government,
including the Ministries of Civil Affairs and Education as well as
provincial governments, has made numerous efforts to foster a sound
environment for promoting youth participation in the country's
decision-making process. As a result, the Central Government of China
approved the "Agenda for the 21st Century" in 1994 which opened up a
chapter for the youth, laying down detailed goals and programs of action
in the fields of youth education, protection of rights and interests,
political participation and economic and social development.
A large number of government and semi-government organisations has
been established throughout China, especially to work towards the
interests of the youth. One such organisation is the All China Youth
Federation (ACYF). With 52 member organisations under its wing and over
77,000 individual members at all levels, the ACYF reaches over 300
million young people across China. Besides its commitment to national
development and world peace, the ACYF aims to represent and protect the
legitimate rights and interests of young people and promote youth
participation in the development activities. It runs programs and
activities in areas of education and training, voluntary service,
environmental protection, innovation and employment, youth culture and
international exchanges and cooperation. The significant contribution of
ACYF has been recognised by UNESCAP with the Human Resources Development
Award in 1999 and by the United Nations with the World Youth Award in
One of the main programs launched by the All-China Youth Federation
to empower the Chinese youth is the Model Youth Units which aim to
encourage young people to base themselves upon their job positions, and
actively participate in social life and decision-making in their work.
The program organises on-post learning, promotes contests among youth
and youth teams, advocates the spirit of professionalism, and creates
the outstanding achievement, thus encouraging youth participation and
youth achievement. In the past decade, over five million youth teams
from more than 30 different industries have joined the program.
The Communist Youth League of China is another important youth
movement under the Communist Party of China (CPC) for youth between the
ages of 14 and 28. The Communist Youth League has contributed a number
of top echelon leaders of the Communist Party-led government of the
People's Republic of China. The proliferation of leaders with a Youth
League background has led to the informal name "Youth League Faction"
being used to describe certain members of the leadership at different
times. The Communist Youth League's basic tasks are to adhere to the
implementation of the Chinese Communist Party's basic policies in
uniting and leading young people to focus on economic development,
strive to promote productivity and social progress and bringing up
successors with lofty ideals, morals, and discipline, and strive to
train new blood for the CPC and young talents in the building of the
The Youth is very well represented in the Chinese People's Congress
and People's Political Consultative Conferences at all levels as well.
They actively participate in the decision-making of public policy and
youth policy. These youth representatives embody the will of the youth,
reflects the youth's voice and fully take part in the political life of
The Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign
Countries (CPAFFC) is another important organisation in China which
focuses on enhancing mutual understanding and friendship, promote
exchanges and cooperation in the political, economic, trade, scientific
and technological, social, cultural, educational and other fields
between the Chinese and people of foreign countries. CPAFFC also has
initiated many exchange programs with foreign countries which enable the
youth to come together in harnessing cordial relations among each other.
The CPAFFC has already established relations of friendship and
cooperation with more than 370 non-governmental organisations in about
International youth exchange programs
China attaches great importance to giving the youth a wide spectrum
of opportunity through international exchange programs for the youth.
Over 100 youth exchange projects are conducted every year in
collaboration with youth organisations of various countries around the
Every year over 3000 young foreigners visit China while over 1000
Chinese youth pay reciprocal visits to their counterparts. In addition,
the All-China Youth Federation has also participated actively in the
consultation, formation and evaluation process of the UN World Program
of Action for Youth (WPAY).
New volunteer culture
Volunteerism, although not a new concept in China, has gained huge
popularity during the past few years. Voluntary service, especially of
the young people, has become a part of the life of ordinary Chinese and
volunteerism has become a value accepted by more and more people in the
society. Since its launch in 1993, the Chinese Young Volunteers
Association has been developing swiftly at all levels of the country.
Every province and every city has its own young volunteers association.
At present more than 89,000 community service centres and over 100,000
volunteer teams have been formed. From these teams, around 150 million
young people have provided over 5.5 billion hours of voluntary services
in fields such as poverty alleviation, development, community
construction, large-scale competitions, rescue work and overseas
services. China impressed the world with her volunteers during the 2008
Beijing Olympic Games. During the games 100,000 volunteers provided
direct services for the Olympic and Paralympic Games at more than 30,000
positions and an additional 400,000 city volunteers provided information
consultation, language interpretation and emergency aid services at 550
posts throughout Beijing and around Olympic venues.
Starting from 2002, the All-China Youth Federation has also
collaborated with the Chinese Young Volunteers Association in
implementing a program of Chinese Young Volunteers' Overseas Service.
Under the program, young volunteers have been designated to provide
voluntary services in developing countries such as Laos and Thailand
that have friendly relations with China for half to one year which has
resulted in generating sound international influence.
Over the past few years, with the gradual expansion of multi-faceted
relations between China and Sri Lanka, new avenues have been opened up
to include youth cooperation. Realising that the foundation of
friendship between the two nations is best based on the promotion of
mutual understanding between the younger generations of the two
countries, under the leadership of President Rajapaksa and in line with
the Mahinda Chinthana, the Government of Sri Lanka has taken several
steps to improve these relations.
The credit should go to Tharunyata Hetak, the premier youth
organisation of Sri Lanka, which took initiatives to establish active
cooperation with the All China Youth Federation. In 2007, the Chairman
of Tharunyata Hetak, Namal Rajapaksa visited Beijing and held
discussions with the senior officials of the All China Youth Federation.
In July this year, fruitful discussions were held between Sri Lanka and
China during the visit of MP Rajapaksa to China. He met with the Vice
President of the ACYF Lu Yong Zhong where the Vice President agreed to
extend cooperation in providing training in the area of human resource
development, despatch young volunteers to train Sri Lankan youth in the
fields of information technology, agriculture and Chinese Language and
exchange young entrepreneurs with Sri Lanka.
A Memorandum of Understanding between the Chinese People's
Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC) and
Tharunyata Hetak Youth Organisation was also signed during the above
visit. This MoU would particularly facilitate youth exchanges between
China and Sri Lanka.
Under this MoU, the two countries would also conduct seminars,
workshops and training programs for the youth on capacity building and
work on twinning of schools to build closer ties among the young
generation. It would also help in the promotion of leadership qualities
and development among the youth through the two youth organisations.
A special program is to be designed in collaboration with the
Communist Party of China within this year for the young parliamentarians
of Sri Lanka to be given the opportunity to interact with the youth
leaders of China, where the two groups will exchange views on leadership
skills and learn about each other's political system and style of
At present, there are over 800 Sri Lankan students following
undergraduate and postgraduate studies in various universities around
China. Of these, over 100 students are benefiting from full scholarships
awarded by the Chinese government. Granting of more scholarships by
China is in the pipelines for this year. These Sri Lankan students are
provided with a conducive study environment with world class facilities
in universities situated in cities such as Beijing, Tianjin, Wuhan and
Chengdu and these young people, after returning home, will act as
friendship Ambassadors between the two countries, cementing ties of
China and Sri Lanka in future.
In August 2009, a group of 40 young schoolchildren and teachers from
various schools in Colombo were given the rare opportunity of
experiencing the unique Chinese culture when they visited China on a
two-week long study program. Organised by the Langfang No. 8 High
School, Beijing Bafang Resources and China Mandarin Promotion Office and
facilitated by the Embassy of Sri Lanka, the children thoroughly enjoyed
a week long Mandarin Chinese language course and a cultural program
followed by another week of cultural tour to a number of historic and
cultural attractions around China.
In keeping with the vision of President Rajapaksa in making Sri Lanka
a knowledge hub, and to encourage cooperative development in the field
of education between China and Sri Lanka, the Embassy of Sri Lanka has
launched several programs to promote student exchanges between the two
Based on the Memorandum of Understanding on Academic Exchange signed
between the University of Kelaniya and the Beijing Foreign Studies
University during President Rajapaksa's official visit to China in 2007,
a batch of 22 Chinese undergraduates of the Beijing Foreign Studies
University have successfully completed an advanced Sinhala Language
program conducted both in Beijing and at the University of Kelaniya.
Since then, Sinhala has become one of the popular foreign languages
taken up by students in the Beijing Foreign Studies University.
The second batch of 16 students will commence their Sinhala language
program in the Beijing Foreign Studies University this month. In
addition to this, several Chinese university lecturers have followed
extensive Sinhala language learning programs in the University of
Kelaniya within the past four years.
The concept of sister-school programs have also been introduced
between schools of Sri Lanka and China, strengthening friendly ties
among the student communities of the two countries.
Student exchange programs between Sirimavo Bandaranaike Vidyalaya of
Colombo and the No: 80 High School in Beijing and between Royal College
of Colombo and 1st June Primary School in Beijing were successfully
organised, providing the young students with an opportunity to build
friendly ties between the youth.
These exercises will lay a firm foundation of friendship in the young
minds which would lead to better relations between the peoples of China
and Sri Lanka in the years to come. Sri Lanka has much to learn from
China, what with her unparalleled growth in economic, social and
cultural spheres and most recently becoming the second largest economy
in the world.
The time tested China - Sri Lanka relations will gain much from the
deepening of relations of the youth of the two countries which would
assure continued mutual benefits. Sri Lanka and China, under the able
leadership of the two nations, are now geared to step up their bonds
through novel and youthful approaches, bringing the younger generations
of China and Sri Lanka evermore closer.