Sri Lanka Pushes Back on China's Influence

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On March 5th, Sri Lanka’s new government suspended a $1.4 billion development in downtown Colombo, the capital city. The stated reason was procedural. A review board had determined the project was not properly approved. The real explanation has to do with Sri Lanka’s recent elections. Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s president, who sought this and other Chinese investments in this Indian Ocean nation of 20 million, was turned out of office on January 8th.

Rajapaksa’s welcome mat for Chinese influence was a major issue in the campaign, as was his creeping authoritarianism, stifling of dissent, and erosion of the rule of law. Sensing his support ebbing, Rajapaksa called for the poll two years early, in hopes of locking in an unprecedented third term. It was too late. He had lost support from loyal constituencies, and members of his government defected to the opposition, including the man who defeated him, the new president, Maithripala Sirisena, formerly general secretary of Rajapaksa’s political party.

In the aftermath of the election, locals say the insecurity and fear that Rajapaksa created seemed to evaporate as the new government dismantled security checkpoints, lifted press restrictions, and appealed for political exiles to return. President Sirisena has pledged to reverse Rajapaksa’s concentration of power in the presidency, and to serve only one term in office. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is overseeing a 100-day reform agenda.

The rest of this post can be read for free on FPI Senior Fellow Ellen Bork's blog at World Affairs Journal

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