Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan met and held talks with Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena on Monday (March 20), kicking off a three-day visit that could unnerve neighbouring India.
The meeting high-level meeting has taken place as some Colombo-based diplomats say that Chinna was cocerned over Sri Lanka’s tilt towards the US and the West.
China has invested heavily in Sri Lanka, funding airports, roads, railways and ports, and including the island nation of 21 million people on its “One Belt, One Road” mission to create a modern-day “Silk Road” across Asia.
In 2014, Sri Lanka allowed a Chinese submarine and a warship to dock at its port in the capital Colombo, prompting concern in New Delhi.
After Sri Lanka, Chang will be travelling to Nepal, which serves as a natural buffer between China and India, challenging India’s long-held position as the dominant outside power in the landlocked nation. China has been vying to increase its influence there too.
Maithri-Ranil unity government’s bid to give the state-owned Chinese company, China Merchant Holding Company, 80% stake for 99 years in the joint venture company to be formed to run the port, has run into a political storm in Sri Lanka.
With two members of the public filing cases being filed against the “Framework Agreement” giving 80% stake to the Chinese, the government is now trying to bring down the Chinese stake to 60%, but it is not clear if the Chinese will agree to it.
Influenced by neighbouring India and its Western allies, Sri Lankan government has expressed its clear intention to keep to itself the right to decide what kind of military activity will be allowed to take place in the port.