China betting on regime change in Sri Lanka?

ECONOMYNEXT – The highly unusual outburst by China’s ambassador criticising Sri Lanka’s finance minister and the island’s economic policies is seen by many analysts as a sign that Beijing may be expecting a regime change in Colombo.

Chinese ambassador Yi Xianliang called a rare press conference Tuesday and criticised Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake by name, not once, but thrice.

Colombo-based diplomats were aghast while the government was livid and were scrambling to respond to what many saw as an attempt by the Chinese envoy to openly criticise the host nation.

"Chinese diplomats never speak out of turn and if and when they say something it is usually what their government wants them to say," a Colombo-based Asian diplomat said.

 Ambassador Yi said minister Ravi Karunanayake was asking for more Chinese loans after publicly criticising the Chinese funding as "expensive loans."

 "You know Ravi criticises this issue many times, publicly. I ask him, if you don’t like this one, why you again talk with me about another one (loan)." the ambassador said at his second press meet in as many years.

 He said Minister Karunanayake told him about securing a 50 million dollar loan from Europe last year at 5.8 per cent and was saying the 2.0 per cent Chinese loans were expensive.

 The Chinese envoy also referred to "internal issues" within the unity government as holding up development activities, especially Chinese-funded projects.

 Minister Karunanayake told reporters in Colombo on Thursday night that the Chinese envoy may have got his wires crossed.

 He said the money Sri Lanka had raised through bond sales (no strings attached financing) could not be compared with project loans which come with many conditions that favour the lender.

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Official sources said a senior aide to the minister had raised the issue with the Chinese ambassador who reportedly denied having made the remarks attributed to him in the local media.

However, Sri Lankan authorities had secured both audio and video recordings of the ambassador’s press conference and raised it with the foreign ministry.

The Rajapaksa-faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) seized on the ambassador’s remarks and told reporters on Thursday that they were delighted.

Former foreign minister G. L. Peiris said the current government was taking anti-China line.

Sources close to the government said they were more concerned about the timing of the Chinese envoy’s remarks coming at a time when there were simmering tensions within the "unity" government and moves by the SLFP to topple the Prime Minister.

In a further sign of Beijing keeping its options open with the remnants of the Rajapaksa regime, former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, had been invited to attend a defence conference in China last month.

It is not clear on what basis Beijing invited Gotabhaya, who is currently under investigation for corruption, but he was apparently treated on par with current defence secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi, an official who has reportedly earned the wrath of the president and the government with his ill-timed comments on the killing of two students in Jaffna and several other issues.

China had a cosy relationship with the Rajapaksa regime and secured free access to Chinese submarines at the Colombo port much to the discomfort of regional super power and Sri Lanka’s immediate neighbour India.

A return of a Rajapaksa-backed regime could take Sri Lanka closer to China’s orbit and away from India, according to political observers.

 The Chinese envoy made his displeasure known over alleged losses incurred due to the new administration’s suspension of projects initiated under the former regime of Rajapaksa.

 Ambassador Yi said he maintained good relations with the former president as well as his successor and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe but was miffed with the alleged negative publicity China received in the local media.

 He said he had sent four delegations of Sri Lankan journalists to China in recent times, but yet the coverage was “negative.” (COLOMBO, Nov 4, 2016)

 

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