Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong visited Ram Setu (Adam’s bridge) on 17 December 2021 amid heavy security and intelligence cover of Sri Lankan Navy and Army. He was on a two-day visit to the Tamil-majority northern province. Adams Bridge or Rama Setu is located between the islands of Mannar near Rameswaram, off the southern coast of India. Built by a chain of rocks, this bridge is 48 km long and separates the Gulf of Mannar from the Palk Strait. The Adam’s bridge is a strong symbol of the deep spiritual and mythological connection between India and Sri Lanka. It is considered as holy by both Indian and Sri Lankan nationals as it is believed that it was created by Indian God Rama to cross the sea along with his army and reach Sri Lanka to wage a war with the island King Ravana. This was the first visit by a Chinese ambassador to the Jaffna peninsula in recent days. The Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka has also shared photos (China in Sri Lanka) where Zhenhong can be seen with a basket outside a historic Hindu temple Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil.
Chinese investments in Sri Lanka have been mushrooming rapidly. Recently, this year, China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC) won a new development project for a 17-km elevated highway in Colombo. The terms of the signed deal allows CHEC to own the highway, recover the principal, earn profits and hand it over to the Sri Lankan government after 18 years. With this, CHEC has become the first foreign company to own a highway in Sri Lanka, Nikkei Asia reported. The CHEC is a subsidiary of state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) and has led numerous infra projects in Sri Lanka, including Hambantota Port and Mattala International Airport. It is currently constructing the USD 1.4 billion Colombo Port City. CHEC has a significant project portfolio in Sri Lanka, especially in Colombo and Hambantota which is also the home town of former President and current Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. It has been observed that during Rajapaksa’s tenure, Sri Lanka has steadily increased its dependence on China for investment in massive infrastructure projects. According to Nikkei Asia, CHEC is accused of corruption scandals in Sri Lanka which includes allegations that during 2015 election campaign, it funded former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s in his bid for a third term.
In 2020, the CCCC was blacklisted by the administration of former US President Donald Trump for helping China build militarily strategic islands in the South China Sea, which the US claimed were illegal. It was further blacklisted by Bangladesh in 2018 for allegedly trying to bribe a senior government official when the company was negotiating with Dhaka to expand a major highway in the capital.
The recent visit of Zhenhong hints towards China’s interest in north Sri Lanka just beneath India. Sri Lanka on the other hand appears to be so much compromised by the CCP that despite growing protests against Chinese presence on the island, the government still took Zhenhong to a holy site amid heavy security cover.
Information credit: Nikkei Asia