China has offered Sri Lanka new loans for infrastructure projects, worth US$ 2.2 billion dollars. In a reply to a question, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mr. Hong Lei told the news media that in addition to infrastructure loans, both countries agreed to further deepen defence cooperation and maintain exchanges between two defence ministries, whilst they continue to carry out in cooperating defence technology, personal training and other fields. Yet, the spokesperson did not reveal further details regarding the nature of the new strategic cooperation.
Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister Professor G. L. Peiris, mentioned in an interview with Global Times that, Sri Lanka will embrace China’s rise and characterised bilateral ties as “very warm and mutually supportive”. He also mentioned that China has “stood the test of time”, referring to the military support the country extended during the last phase of the war against the LTTE, as well as the support given to Sri Lanka against a US-backed resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
However, the growing China-Sri Lanka relationship has raised US-Indian concerns over Sri Lanka’s strategic priorities in the Indian Ocean and according to some analysts, Sri Lanka is becoming a key player in China’s “String of Pearls” strategy, which is understood as aiming at encountering the American maritime power along the sea lines of communications (SLOC) and connecting China to vital energy resources in Africa and the Middle East.
As it is understood, there are several “pearls” in the Chinese “String of Pearls”: a Hainan Island’s upgraded military facility, a Woody Island airstrip, a container shipping facility in Chittagong, Bangladesh, a deep water port in Sittwe, Myanmar, a fuelling station in Hambantota harbour, Sri Lanka and a navy base in Gwadar, Pakistan. The country’s top oil and gas producer – ‘China National Petroleum Corp’ (CNPC), has recently completed the construction of natural gas pipeline from Myanmar to China, a strategic link which will allow China to avoid any possible military blockade in the Malacca Strait.
These pearls are to ensure an uninterrupted flow of energy supplies to China, especially oil, as China’s oil consumption is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 5.8 per cent in the next 10 years. Since over 70 percent of China’s oil imports come from Africa and the Middle East via sea, it is China’s top strategic priority to secure SLOC from the Middle East and Africa, to China, across the India Ocean and South China Sea.
Full article: Is Sri Lanka Becoming A Key Player In China’s String Of Pearls? (The Sunday Leader)