China seeks to cultivate Sri Lanka ties but without international reproach

Monday, 02 December, 2013, Beijing's criticism of Sri Lankan abuses may seem hypocritical as it continues to pour billions into the impoverished country's infrastructure

SCMP 南南南南 It is not often that the Chinese government criticises another nation for how it handles civil liberties, especially a country with which it has close financial and diplomatic ties !o it was curious when "in #ang, a spo$esman for the Chinese foreign ministry, advised !ri %an$a, a nation accused of committing war crimes, to &ma$e efforts to protect and promote human rights& &'hat is most important is that human rights conditions should be improved by the governments of countries concerned,& he said, adding that &constructive help should also be offered by the international community& 'hen China spea$s out, things are indeed grim on the island nation Much to !ri %an$a(s dismay, the nation(s human rights record became the unintended focus of the recent Commonwealth )eads of #overnment Meeting *Chogm+ in Colombo, which critics considered an inappropriate location !everal nations used the biennial summit to slam Colombo for failing to investigate alleged war crimes committed during the last stages of its 2,-year-long civil war against the separatist .amil .igers /arly on, Canada declined to attend India and Mauritius followed suit 0ritain(s "ueen

/li1abeth, head of the institution, did not attend, while 2rime Minister David Cameron met with .amil opposition leaders and victims of the conflict 3t a press conference, Commonwealth !ecretariat Commonwealth spo$esman 4ichard 5$u as$ed if any reporter had a 6uestion not related to !ri %an$a or human rights 7one did In 2008, !ri %an$a(s government crushed the %iberation .igers of .amil /elam at tremendous human cost In the final months of the counterinsurgency, which the 4a9apa$sa government referred to as a &humanitarian operation&, shelling $illed up to :0,000 civilians, according to the 5nited 7ations Many people died in the armydesignated &safe 1one&, a narrow strip of beach, leaving a $illing field of sand littered with children(s sandals and torn saris !ince the war(s end, the international community has pressed Colombo to allow an independent investigation into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity Instead, the government increased its troop numbers to more than 300,000 and granted the army virtual impunity for cases of se;ual violence, torture, disappearance and land grabbing, abuses that continue to this day, according to human rights groups During the summit, Cameron told 2resident Mahinda 4a9apa$sa that unless he saw &credible, transparent and independent investigations into alleged war crimes&, he would personally push for an independent in6uiry into !ri %an$a(s human rights record at the 5nited 7ations )uman 4ights Council in March 201: 2resident 4a9apa$sa and his family-laden cabinet - the body includes about a do1en family members - re9ect accusations that his government committed crimes and have tried to discredit critics <ollowing her visit to the country, 57 )uman 4ights )igh Commissioner 7avi 2illay was referred to as a &.amil tigress in the 57& by one minister, while Cameron was accused for neo-colonialism by government supporters and warned by 2resident 4a9apa$sa that &people in glass houses shouldn(t throw stones& 'hile China is not a Commonwealth country, its presence was still felt= 0ei9ing funded the new 5!>282 million highway that whis$ed delegates from the airport, and 0ei9ing(s largesse to !ri %an$a has e;tended to the building of hotels, power plants and a 3?,000-seat cric$et stadium In his closing speech at the summit, 4a9apa$sa than$ed China for helping to defray the cost of post-war reconstruction with 5!>1 0?? billion in loans and 5!>1, million in grants last year China has funded several infrastructure pro9ects, railways, highways, harbours, a coal-fired power plant and a new international airport, at an estimated cost of 5!>: billion, according to @inhua If anything could convince Colombo to ta$e human rights seriously, it might well be the threat of falling out with 0ei9ing China is Colombo(s biggest giver of credit and aid, with a credit line that has become essential to the resurrection of !ri %an$a(s economy from the twin disasters of war and the 200: tsunami Despite 4a9apa$sa(s reputation for corruption and nepotism, !ri %an$a became a favoured investment destination for Chinese companies under 0ei9ing(s &going out policy&, which encourages overseas

investment .he love story began before the war ended 'ith its own border regions inhabited by restive ethnic minorities, 0ei9ing might have sympathised with !ri %an$a(s acts against the .igers, but even then its friendship seemed mostly materialistic Chinese arms sales have amounted to 5!>1 A billion, and by 200B several ma9or infrastructure deals, such as )ambantota harbour, had been mapped out In e;change, 0ei9ing has afforded its diplomatic clout to Colombo, with China(s 57 !ecurity Council veto protecting !ri %an$a from intervention by the international community during the conflict 0ei9ing(s fondness for regimes with less-than-perfect human rights records is nothing new It has consorted with the leaders of the military regimes of 0urma, !udan and 7orth Corea 7onetheless, the Chinese <oreign Ministry spo$esman "in #ang(s comment prompted some cautious optimism among human rights observers, most of whom had assumed China would continue to bloc$ any action by the 57(s human rights council &.he fact that the Chinese government is mentioning the issue of human rights at all, and especially coming days after the commonwealth summit, is suggestive,& of the limits of 0ei9ing(s tolerance, says 3lan Ceenan, senior analyst with the International Crisis #roup !till, Ceenan says the ambiguous summit statement is unli$ely to signal a shift in 0ei9ing(s support for Colombo &It might nonetheless be intended to send a message to the 4a9apa$sas that absolute support from China can(t be guaranteed indefinitely and that they need to start improving their rights record to ma$e it easier for China to defend them,& he adds <or 0ei9ing, too, the union seemed auspicious %ocated only si; nautical miles north of the east-west sea route, the world(s busiest, !ri %an$a has enormous potential as a transit point for shipments of oil and other resources from the Middle /ast and 3frica to !outh /ast 3sia Cerry 0rown, director of the China !tudies Centre at the 5niversity of !ydney, says that !ri %an$a(s strategic position, potential as a trade partner and an unwillingness to capitulate to international pressure on human rights, made it an obvious choice for China in its 6uest for reliable allies &!ri %an$a might well be the perfect client state,& says 0rown &'ith this list of attributes, it(s hard to see why both wouldn(t want to see$ deeper ways to wor$ with each other 'hat would always nag China is the feeling that its allies are only s$in deep and that they are most li$ely disloyal & )aving reached , A per cent economic growth, 4a9apa$sa recently said he aimed to ma$e !ri %an$a a middle-income country by 201, <or that to happen, 0ei9ing(s

continued assistance is li$ely essential %ast year, bilateral trade reached 5!>2 , billion, and that is set to grow with a free-trade agreement in the wor$s 'hile both sides say China(s involvement in !ri %an$a is primarily commercial, both countries are $nown for the close relations between their business sectors and militaries 3t a defence summit in Colombo in !eptember, a Chinese military official reiterated 0ei9ing(s commitment to transforming !ri %an$a .he event itself was cosponsored by 2oly .echnologies, one of China(s largest arms dealers and the primary weapons supplier to the !ri %an$an army during the civil war 3 5!>?00 million port in Colombo recently openedD it(s A? per cent-owned by China Merchant )oldings International, a state-owned enterprise .hat is 0ei9ing(s second port in the country, adding to a deep-water facility in the president(s hometown of )ambantota 3s 3sia booms, more shipping facilities will be re6uired, says 4everend ' 'imalaratana, an economics professor at Colombo 5niversity )ong Cong and !ingapore cannot meet the growing demand, and !ri %an$a can step in, but not without China(s $now-how and money 4ather than a new !ingapore, however, critics have suggested that !ri %an$a might instead become a new Myanmar - a case of 0ei9ing helping an authoritarian regime cement power in e;change for its resources Chinese companies( global ventures have faced bac$lashes around the world, spar$ing protests in 0urma and several 3frican countries 'ang Dehua , a !outh 3sian studies specialist at the !hanghai Institute for International !tudies, paints a rosy picture of the China-!ri %an$a arrangement, saying it is beneficial for both parties &'e really want to help the destination countries to prosper and become rich,& he says &.ogether, we can build many more !ingapores 3nd this would be beneficial not only for China, but the world as well & 'ang says that !ri %an$a(s human rights record is no obstacle En the contrary, China(s military and financial assistance has contributed to stability and development Meanwhile, Indian leaders fret about China(s activities in the Indian Ecean and involvement in !ri %an$an politics .hey view China(s actions in !ri %an$a as attempts to establish a foothold in India(s bac$yard 0ei9ing has built ports in all the countries surrounding India, including Myanmar, 2a$istan, 0angladesh and the Maldives In what could be an attempt to catch up with 0ei9ing(s diplomacy, 7ew Delhi recently signed a controversial deal to build a coal plant in !ampur and started test drilling for oil off !ri %an$a(s east coast 3le; 7eill, a senior researcher at 0ritain(s International Institute for !trategic !tudies, says that despite !ri %an$a(s strategic value as a shipping transit point, 0ei9ing has

overriding priorities &I thin$ the Chinese ta$e a mercantilist approach, and they will be careful to not be accused of appeasement and amity of unpalatable regimes,& he says &.hey 9ust want to ma$e money from this opportunity & 3n earlier version of this story contained a paragraph with an inaccurate 6uote attributed to Colonel @u )ui .he paragraph has been removed from the article It also inaccurately stated that !ri %an$a is Fconfident of achieving , A per cent economic growth G .he country has already reached that benchmar$

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