China’s 2015 White Paper on defense clearly states its ambition to maintain the security of its overseas interests and strategic sea lines of communication by entrusting the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the PLA Navy (PLAN) with the task of doing so. In light of this, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has provided China a gateway for enhanced interactions and strategic developments in the Indo-Pacific region through which it aims to link more than 65 countries via an ambitious network of ports, rails, roads and other infrastructure, encompassing about 40 percent of the global GDP.
China has invested close to 15 billion USD in Sri Lanka where its transnational infrastructure building program includes the dendro (biomass) power plant project, the Mattala airport, the Hambantota Port and a brand-new financial district called the Colombo Port City. Originally the brainchild of former President Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Hambantota port was originally intended to be a project between Sri Lanka and India. Ultimately, Mr. Rajapaksa allowed China to come in after India rejected the offer due to the lack of economic viability the port would provide. The port, which has been handed over to China on a 99 year lease, has considerable strategic influence since it provides China a maritime route to connect to Europe, which will further help Beijing boost its trade volumes.
Aside from Sri Lanka, China’s steadily creeping influence has also expanded to other countries in the region such as Maldives. Since opening its embassy in 2012, China’s influence and interest in the island has grown at an unprecedented scale, which has caused disruption in the long-standing relations between India and Maldives. Under the leadership of President Abdulla Yameen, Maldives’ historically pro-Indian government has slowly been replaced by a pro-Chinese one. As a consequence, Beijing continues to expand its presence in this strategically important archipelago without much resistance from the new government.
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