09/15/2020, 12.31
SRI LANKA – CHINA
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Beijing's Belt and Road will change the face of South Asia

by Melani Manel Perera

For Prof Sumanasiri Liyanage, China’s growing presence in the region will increase tensions with India. Delhi and Washington are pressing smaller countries in the area, including Sri Lanka, to distance themselves from China. There are doubts about the benefits of the BRI for the poorest strata of the population.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will change the geopolitical framework of South Asia, this according to Sumanasiri Liyanage, a former lecturer of political economy at the University of Peradeniya, currently an analyst and columnist and a member of the South Asia Peace Institute.

The initiative, launched in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping to boost China's role in world trade, will increase tension in the macro-region.

For the scholar, “Beijing’s presence in the Indian Ocean is seen by India as a strategy of encirclement towards it. For this reason, Delhi and the US are putting pressure on the small nations of the area to distance themselves from Chinese projects.”

Sri Lanka is considered one of the key hubs in China’s sea ‘new Silk Road’. Since 2013, China has invested approximately US$ 8.5 billion in transport and logistics on the island.

Many observers see the country as a victim of China’s “debt trap”. On the basis of this strategy, Beijing grants loans to cash-strapped countries. unable to repay the debt, they are forced to sell national assets to the Asian giant.

In Sri Lanka’s case it is the port of Hambantota, whose construction was partially financed by China. In order to pay off the debt, Sri Lankan authorities leased it to a Chinese state-owned company for 99 years.

“The BRI is undoubtedly an attempt to build a new social space in western, central, southern and eastern Asia, linking them to Europe and Africa,” Sumanasiri Liyanage said.

“The massive influx of capital will certainly increase production, trade and income in the [Indian Ocean] region, but whether this will benefit the poorest strata of the population remains to be seen.”

“The impact of infrastructure-driven development is in fact mixed: during the construction phase, growth is significant, but later it is small.”

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