Forget Presidential Politics: Sri Lanka’s Green Movement Is Its Best Hope Against China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 11, November 2019

By Bertie Harrison-Broninski

Pumps dredge sand to reclaim land at the site of a Chinese-funded 1.4 billion USD reclamation project in Colombo on December 5, 2017.
Half of the reclamation project to build Colombo Financial City, previously known as Colombo Port City, has been completed, with Sri Lanka hoping to turn it into an international financial centre with special laws protecting foreign investment. / AFP / LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / Getty Images

Sri Lanka, like many countries in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is not powerful enough to resist China on political or economic grounds – but hope lies in its burgeoning environmental movements.

This Saturday (November 16th), Sri Lankans go to the polls to elect a new president. The frontrunners are Sajith Premadasa, current Minister for Housing, Development, and Cultural affairs, and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the ruthless military leader who played a large part in defeating the ‘Tamil Tigers’ during Sri Lanka’s civil war. Both have family ties to ex-presidents: Premadasa’s father, Ranasinghe, was president 1989-1993, and Rajapaksa’s brother, Mahinda, was from 2005-2015.

International media has largely focused on the geopolitical implications of the Rajapaksas regaining power. Mahinda Rajapaksa is seen as a key player in initiating China’s current economic ‘debt trap’ over Sri Lanka, which has now led to 99-year leases on territory around Hambantota Port and Colombo, where China is constructing an entire ‘Port City’. A President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa would rightly be seen as a return to China-friendly Sri Lankan foreign policy after President Maithripala Sirisena’s more US-aligned years in office. Continue reading