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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.


Chinese youth

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 2000.

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 country.

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 country.

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 120 countries.

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 world.

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.

Youth relations

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 governance etc.

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.

Education

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 countries.

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.

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