Why is China willing to help Sri Lanka? | Sunday Observer

Why is China willing to help Sri Lanka?

Chinese Ambassador Cheng Xueyuan speaks at the symposium Pic : Chandani Jayatilleke
Chinese Ambassador Cheng Xueyuan speaks at the symposium Pic : Chandani Jayatilleke

Why is China willing to help Sri Lanka? Chinese Ambassador for Sri Lanka, Cheng Xueyuan took time to explain a frequently asked question by many Sri Lankans, at a symposium held at the Chinese Embassy in Colombo on Wednesday.

Speaking at a symposium titled, ‘From Millennium to the New Era: Jointly Build the Belt and Road and Embrace the Sri Lanka Dream’, Ambassador Xueyuan said, “Many people may be thinking about it and even wondering about this question. Today, please allow me to elaborate three main reasons in depth, which I believe will not only eliminate this confusion but also demonstrate the future of our bilateral relations.” He gave the answer through three reasons.


First, China and Sri Lanka are combined with a millenniums history of friendship and exchanges which make us care and help each other.

Though the two countries are far apart geographically, but the history of friendly exchanges of the two states last for more than a thousand years. About 1,600 years ago, Master Fa Xian studied Buddhism in Sri Lanka and returned to China via the maritime Silk Road, to proclaim Dharma, peace and friendship. About 600 years ago, the Zheng He Fleet visited Sri Lanka five times and brought the bilateral economic and cultural exchanges to a new height.

Rubber-Rice pact

When the Peoples Republic of China was founded in 1949, Sri Lanka was among the earliest countries in the region to recognise it. In 1952, the leaders of our two countries broke through the heavy blockade of imperialism and made a political decision to sign the Rubber-Rice Pact, through which China sold rice to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in international market price, and bought rubber from the latter with a price higher than the international market one. This has both relieved the crisis of food shortage in Sri Lanka, and the strategic need of rubber in China. R. G. Senanayake, the then Minister of Commerce and the Sri Lankan signatory to the historical Pact, once stated: “Ceylon is the first country in South Asia to send a government delegation to China and enter into a trade agreement with it. It has become a good example for other South Asian countries.”

Later, the Rubber-Rice Pact was renewed several times and continued until the 1980s. Under the Pact, Sri Lankan rubber seeds were also exported to China, and deeply rooted in the Chinese soil and people’s heart. It is not only a trade agreement, but also an agreement of solid friendship between the two countries.

Since the 1980s, Sri Lanka was facing a serious threat of terrorism and China extended its steady support to Sri Lanka. After finally bringing an end to the 26-year civil conflicts in 2009, Sri Lanka found itself severely suffered from war trauma and almost torn to pieces.

Post-war reconstruction

When standing and trembling on the war ruins, Sri Lanka called for urgent support from the international community to rebuild this country, but surprisingly found that most countries chose to remain silent and watch the situation going on with folded arms.

At this critical moment, it was China again that stood up with open arms to Sri Lanka and participated comprehensively and deeply in the post-war reconstruction of the country.

As of the end of 2017, Chinese companies have completed more than US$15 billion infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka such as transportation, water, electricity, ports and other fields, and made great contributions to the economic and social development of this country.

I would like to mention some significant progress. The completion of the Norocholai Power Station (or the Puttalam Power Station) provided about 40% of the nation’s electricity supply and ended the history of frequent power cuts on the Island. The Katunayake Expressway (Colombo airport expressway) has brought great convenience to international travellers and contributed to the blooming of tourism.

The Colombo International Container Terminal, a Sino-SL joint venture, becomes a fastest growing container terminal in the world. The newly completed Moragahakanda Project, which is the biggest reservoir in Sri Lanka, has brought great benefits to local agriculture and people. Section-I of the Southern Railway and the extension of the Southern Expressway are going to complete and open which will give a strong impetus to the South Region development.

Last but not least, the under-construction Colombo Port City as well as the Hambantota Port and Industrial Park are expected to become the new powerful engines for Sri Lankan economy to take-off. In addition, our pragmatic cooperation has also created more than 100,000 jobs for Sri Lanka, trained tens of thousands of technical and management personnel.

Long history

Second, China and Sri Lanka shared similar rough encounters in the past, which makes us sympathise with each other.

China and Sri Lanka are both civilizations with a long history. We were both suffered a lot from imperialism and colonialism. Since 1840, China had been frequently invaded by western powers, falling into a semi-feudal and semi-colonial country. It was not until 1949 and under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the Chinese people had finally gained liberation, established a new socialist China and embarked on the great path of national development and rejuvenation.

Since the 16th century, Sri Lanka has been colonised consecutively by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British until 1948 when it became independent. Unfortunately since the 1980s, Sri Lanka has experienced civil strife for nearly three decades and the national development process has been forced to stagnate.

Similar historical encounters allow us to empathize with each other’s fate and understand each other’s deep aspiration of peace, development, and a better life. Therefore, whenever Sri Lanka is facing a major opportunity for national development, China is willing to do its utmost to help Sri Lanka.

Third, the Belt and Road Initiative combines the Chinese Dream and Sri Lankan Dream together in the New Era, which makes us join hands and move forward with each other.

Under the strong leadership of the CPC, the Chinese people have won brilliant achievements in national construction after 69 years of tremendous efforts. Especially since the 18th National Congress of the CPC in November 2012, under the leadership of General Secretary Xi Jinping as the core, we have successfully decided and deployed following major issues including comprehensively deepening reform, comprehensively enhancing Law-based governance, and comprehensively strengthening Party discipline.


We have formulated and promoted a system of national strategic plans, successfully completed the 12th ‘Five-Year Plan’ and started the 13th ‘Five-Year Plan’, which initiated a new chapter for the party and the country’s development, and advanced the dignity, prosperity and strength of the Chinese people.

In the 19th National Congress of the CPC in October 2017, Xi Jinping reiterated that the original aspiration and the mission of Chinese Communists is to seek happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation for the Chinese nation. He called for all members of the CPC to remain true to our original aspiration and keep our mission firmly in mind, and work tirelessly to realize the Chinese Dream. The Communist Party of China strives for both the wellbeing of the Chinese people and the entire human progress. In the new Era, China will continue to hold high the banner of peace, development, cooperation, and mutual benefit and to forge a new form of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness and justice, and win-win cooperation.

To build such a new form of international relations requires abandoning the Cold War mentality and the ‘zero-sum game’, to insist all countries no matter large or small are equal, to respect each other’s core interests and concerns, and to pursue fairness and justice in handling international affairs. China’s development cannot be isolated from the world, while it also drives the development of the world. With the high integration between China and the world, in 2017, the global contribution rate of the Chinese economy exceeded 30%. In a globalized world, we all have a stake in each other’s future, just like passengers riding in the same boat. We are willing to work together with all countries to build a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind, achieve common development, and join hands in creating a better future.

It is based on the grand concept of the ‘two Buildings’ (i.e. Building a New Form of International Relations and a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind) that President Xi Jinping proposed the great Belt and Road Initiative. The BRI allows all countries along the route to work together under the golden rule of ‘joint consultation, contribution and shared benefits’, and realize the “five connectivity”, namely connectivity of policy, transportation, trade, currency and the heart of the people.

The Belt and Road Initiative is completely different from the ‘Marshall Plan’ during the Cold War. It is not for fostering any ally, but for the common development of related countries, and for a better future of mankind.”

The symposium was attended by Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama who was the Chief Guest and leading Chinese investors CMPort and China Harbour Engineering, academics, heads of policy think-tanks and media representatives.

Concluding his speech the ambassador quoted an old Chinese saying, “A giant tree grows from a tiny seedling; A thousand miles journey begins with a single step”.

China and Sri Lanka have strong complementarities, and the potential for cooperation is still waiting to explore.

“With concrete efforts and under the guidance of our leaders, I am fully confident that in the New Era of our bilateral relations, we will certainly gain the success of joint construction of BRI in Sri Lanka, and embrace the Sri Lankan Dream of a prosperous country and a happy people,” he said.



During JRJ era, when India under Indira was trying to militarily invade Sri Lanka, it was China who broke the news, and stood by Sri Lanka. I am writing this from California. Sri Lankan never forget.