Sri Lanka’s Role in China’s One Belt, One Road Complicated by Political Shifts

Sri Lanka’s Role in China’s One Belt, One Road Complicated by Political Shifts
A Buddhist monk and villagers argue with police officers during a protest outside the inauguration ceremony of an industrial zone, Ambalantota, Hambantota district, Sri Lanka, Jan. 7, 2017 (AP photo by Eranga Jayawardena).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series about China’s One Belt, One Road infrastructure initiative, also known as the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

Under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka was an eager player in China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, hoping to use Chinese capital to execute a massive postwar infrastructure upgrade. But OBOR has run into a number of problems in Sri Lanka. The country has reportedly borrowed more than $6 billion for infrastructure projects, mostly from China, and officials now say the loans are too expensive. Moreover, Rajapaksa’s unexpected election loss in 2015 complicated the political environment and raised questions about whether the country would remain receptive to large-scale Chinese investment. In an email interview, Anushka Wijesinha, chief economist at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce in Colombo, discusses where the Sri Lanka projects stand today.

WPR: What infrastructure deals were made with China under Rajapaksa, and what benefits—and/or disadvantages—did these initiatives offer both sides?

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