December 2016

Sri Lanka in ‘One Belt One Road’: Challenges and Way Forward

Sri Lanka in ‘One Belt One Road’: Challenges and Way Forward

(This paper  was presented by Ms. Shalika Dias , Jr. Research Associate of the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies at the International Conference on ‘One Belt One Road’ Initiatives and New Modes of Globalization, organized by the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences and Open Times Journal, China, 10th-11th December 2016)


Background, Principles and framework of ‘One Belt One Road’(OBOR)

The endurance of the global capitalist economic system has been challenged by asymmetrical global development, slowly recovering world economy, the arguable role of multilateral financial organizations, European refugee crisis, and Brexit. Emerging new economies like China, India, South Africa, Brazil, and Russia have to compete extraordinarily to explore new ways in order to protect their economic development and national survival as they are driving their national economies on an uncertain global capitalist economic system. New economies are striving to add new qualities and values to the existing economic system though it is unfeasible to change the existing system entirely. ‘One Belt One Road’ (hereafter OBOR) is an outcome of this significant attempt invented and initiated by China in 2013.

OBOR or ‘Silk Route Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Route’ aims to promote the connectivity of Asian, European, and African continents and their adjacent seas. It practices the thousand year-old Silk Route Spirit (values) of peace and cooperation, openness, inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit. The values of the OBOR make global economic development and world peace interdependent.

By upholding the five principles of Peaceful Co-existence, the OBOR systematic initiative aspires to fulfill the five goals of enhancing intergovernmental policy coordination by coordinating national development strategies along the Belt and Road, facilitating connectivity through infrastructure development, expanding unimpeded trade by removing red tape on investment and trade barriers, developing financial integration through new banks like Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and finally enhancing people-to-people relations through cultural and academic exchanges.

 Sri Lanka’s partnership in OBOR

Sri Lanka can uphold an enormous role in developing connectivity of OBOR-Maritime Silk Route due to its geographical middle location in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka has the potential of connecting the three global regions of Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia which cover immense global territory and population.  However, the country’s poor infrastructure development in terms of roads and transport, power and energy, ports, airport and aviation has impeded Sri Lanka-OBOR connectivity. Sophisticated infrastructure could facilitate OBOR connectivity through the flow of capital and services.

However, China’s OBOR initiative endeavors to facilitate Sri Lanka-OBOR connectivity to tap mutual benefits by developing infrastructure of Sri Lanka. China is currently developing Colombo port, Hambantota port, Mattala International Airport, several internal highways and power plants in Sri Lanka. Facilitating these infrastructure projects will expand Sri Lanka’s sea and air connectivity, international trade and investments.

Colombo International Financial City is a successful outcome of Sri Lanka-China bilateral attempts in developing Sri Lanka-OBOR relations. Apart from China, many investors and developers from neighboring countries such as India, Malaysia, and Singapore have agreed to invest. This is a sign of the growing Sri Lanka-OBOR partnership.

It is certain that Sri Lanka will have a growing partnership with OBOR in future. Consequently, what would be a concern is how to sustain the relations by identifying the challenges ahead. Since current Sri Lanka-OBOR relations solely depend on Sri Lanka-China bilateral relations, the challenges may dent Sri Lanka-OBOR connectivity as well.  Strategic policy planning for tackling challenges will keep both Sri Lanka-China and Sri Lanka-China based OBOR relations in intact future.

Challenges of Sri Lanka-China and Sri Lanka-China based OBOR relations

  1. Growing overland connectivity

Beijing’s current concern over energy security highlights the importance of Sri Lanka’s location in the Indian Ocean. 2/3 of China’s oil requirements are fulfilled by the Indian Ocean. China heavily depends on Sri Lanka’s ports for bunkering and refueling purposes since the country lies just a few nautical miles away from the super-busy east-west shipping route.

However, China’s energy security has turned into an energy dilemma owing to the non-traditional security threats of maritime terrorism and piracy in the Indian Ocean. These complications have necessitated the Beijing administration to construct two overland oil pipelines and a highway without solely depending on maritime Sea Lines of Communications (hereafter SLOCs).

1.1     Pakistan-China Overland Oil Pipeline

Beijing and Karachi administrations expect to transport crude oil from Gwadar port to China’s Xinjiang Province through Azad Kashmir. The geographical location of the Gwadar port is making Beijing’s ‘Overland Oil Pipeline Dream’ possible. Gwadar port is located 72 km further apart from the Iranian border and 400 km away from Hormuz Strait which transports China’s crude oil from the regions of Africa and the Middle East.

1.2     Myanmar-China Overland Oil Pipeline

China started the construction of parallel oil and natural gas pipelines between the Kyaukpyu deep seaport on Burma’s Arakan coast in the Bay of Bengal and Kunming in China’s Yunnan Province and probably beyond.

1.3     Bangladesh-China Highway

China is constructing a highway from Bangladesh to Kunming through Myanmar parallel to the construction of Chittagong port as well as the reconstruction of the Sonadi port. Beijing expects to export oil from Chittagong Sonadi ports to Kunming through Myanmar by utilizing the newly constructed highway.

Overland oil pipelines and highway can devalue Sri Lanka’s geographical middle location in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka’s small island capabilities in developing network and connectivity of Maritime Silk Route heavily depends on the number of cargos crossing Sri Lanka’s ports. Pipelines, highways as well as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Cargo train (Silk Route Train) from China to Iran may increase overland transportation and connectivity while giving less significance to Sri Lanka’s ports.

  1. Geopolitics of India

Power politics of India in the Indian Ocean Region (hereafter IOR) have resulted in the appearance of new challenges for Sri Lanka-China bilateral relations. India is practicing new approaches in power politics in the IOR, owing to China’s new presence in the region.

China’s presence in the IOR is evident in the construction of port facilities in littoral states of the IOR, Hambantota-Sri Lanka, Gwadar-Pakistan, Chittagong-Bangladesh and Kyaukpyu- Myanmar by supplying loans, materials, technical assistance and Chinese laborers. Energy security and economic development are key objectives of China’s new presence in the IOR particularly in Sri Lanka.

Although China is constructing ports by covering major oil shipping routes, it has naturally covered India since these ports are located in neighboring countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. India is concerned that China will build naval bases in the ports that they are currently constructing particularly in Sri Lanka and deploy naval forces and nuclear weapons by obstructing sea lines of communications in order to weaken their economic and military sea power.

This new challenge has directed Sri Lanka to shield existing Sri Lanka-China relations while balancing relations with neighboring India, since balanced and transparent relations with both India and China can ensure the survival of peaceful OBOR.

  1. Deficient of Coordination Mechanism

Although Sri Lanka-China bilateral relations are widening, very few people are aware of the outcomes of these relations due to deficient internal mechanism in making people aware. People have the ability to gather basic information about diplomatic visits, number of treaties signed but have deficient information on their long-term outcomes. No committee has been appointed to follow up on the renewal process of treaties according to the time and present context. Politicians, entrepreneurs and journalists analyze these relations according to narrow individual perceptions which they develop through electronic media. In this backdrop, civil society can distrust Sri Lanka-China bilateral relations. It is time dependent and context dependent.

This challenge is growing day by day and it can even result in a negative perception of OBOR too, since Sri Lanka has a China based OBOR partnership.

Long-term sustainability of Sri Lanka’s partnership in OBOR profoundly depends on public awareness. Apart from a few government policy planners, entrepreneurs, academics, students and journalists, OBOR is an unknown phrase to many Sri Lankans. It is unfeasible to sustain OBOR partnership without having a national will and national voice for it. Sri Lankan academics and journalists should play a bigger role in order to widen the awareness on OBOR. However, their writings are quite deficient due to broadening lack of sources to collect in-depth facts.

Conversely, small scale entrepreneurs have the ability of expanding Sri Lanka-China trade and as an extension developing Sri Lanka-OBOR trade relations. However, lack of information on setting-up new businesses with China and other OBOR partners, information on their interests, capabilities and reliability have turned into barriers. Obviously, Sri Lanka-China-OBOR relations would sustain if there is a qualitative coordination mechanism.

Ms. Shalika Dias , Jr. Research Associate

Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS)


(2014), Xi Jinping: The Governance of China, Beijing: Foreign Language Press.
BOI, “Why Sri Lanka?”, (accessed on 29/11/2016)
Colombo Gazette, “New Tripartite Agreement Signed on Colombo Port City,” (accessed n 2nd December 2016)
economynext, “Sri Lanka to join ‘one road, one belt’ Initiative”,,_one_belt__initiative-3-4697.html (accessed on 30/11/2016)
Fernando, S. (Ed.). (2015). United States-China-India Strategic Triangle in Indian Ocean Region: Challenges and Opportunities (P.55). New Delhi: K.W.
National Development and Reforms Commission, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China (2015), Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Route Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road,  China: Foreign Language Press
Raja Mohan (2013), Samudra Manthan: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific, India: Oxford University
Warnasooriya Tissa, Speech delivered at the Invited Seminar on Sri Lanka-China Relations: Challenges & Way Forward at the Bandaranaike Centre for International Relations, 31st March 2016.

Leader of the Rainbow Nation: Nelson Mandela

Known amongst the South Africans as “Madiba”; which means “Father” in the Xhosa language, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is celebrated as the individual who dedicated 50 years of his life to bring about racial equality towards his countrymen. Nelson Mandela was one of the key players in abolishing the apartheid regime that was institutionalized in South Africa for 46 years. After 27 years of imprisonment for rebelling against the regime, Mandela continued his campaign to abolish apartheid. This earned Mandela the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 along with F.W De Klerk. The following year Mandela became the first black president of a democratic South Africa. Retiring after one term of presidency, Mandela was involved in numerous organizations supporting various causes such as tackling poverty, ensuring the welfare of men, women and children and supporting AIDS victims.

The Apartheid Regime

Apartheid; (derived from the West Germanic language Afrikaans) literally means “separateness”. The apartheid regime was first institutionalized in 1948 after South Africa’s National Party came into power. The regime was designed to give power to the white minority population over the economic and social system by the suppression and segregation of Non-Whites (Black, Coloured and Indian) in South Africa. The system was enforced by laws such as the “Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949”, which prohibited marriages between whites and non-whites. The freedom of the non-whites was controlled by implementation of “pass laws”, which forced the non-whites to carry a pass to enter urban or “white places”. This was further institutionalized by the “group areas act of 1950”; which forced the non–whites that were working in urban areas to live in controlled, government approved areas. Later in 1951, the “Bantu Authorities Act” stripped black South Africans of their citizenship and political rights including voting and pushed them to separate “homelands” which would run as independent states. Hence from 17th July 1951, the black population would require passports to enter territory controlled by the central government. The apartheid government would further deepen the segregation by creating a separate education system through the “Bantu Education Act of 1953”, and the “Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953”; which specified that all public spaces such as parks, restaurants and beaches were to contain separate areas for whites and non-whites.



Public spaces separated for white and non-whites

Mandela’s Fight

Mandela’s political career began when he joined the ANC (African National Congress) youth league during his enrollment at University College of Fort Hare. It was in 1940 that he was expelled for political activism from the university, and in 1944 in which he formally joined the ANC.

After the National Party came into power in 1948 and introduced the apartheid regime, it was in the defiance campaign of 1952 that Mandela was recognised as an anti-apartheid activist. After getting arrested along with 19 others and charged with violation of the suppression of the communism act, along with lifelong friend Oliver Tambo, Mandela drafted the M-plan (Mandela plan). It was drafted in 1953 so that the ANC could operate under the radar by dividing the party into separate operational units.

After the Sharpeville Massacre of March 1960, which was a peaceful protest with regards to pass laws in Sharpeville in South Africa but ended up with 70 dead people, 180 injured and over 5000 protestors arrested, Mandela announced that the ANC will further retaliate against the government even if they had to resort to violent means.

“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”

(Nelson MandelaLong Walk to Freedom, 1994)

In December 1961, Mandela became the First commander of the MK (Umkhonto We Sizwe – spear of the nation). This was the military wing of the ANC. The motives of the MK were to destroy government property that symbolized the regime. An estimated number of 150 MK attacks occurred between 1976 and 1982.

As he became a targeted person by the Apartheid government, Mandela had to resort to hiding. He came to be known as the “Black pimpernel” as he traveled around in various disguises.  He was then smuggled out of Africa to attend the Pan- African Freedom Movement of the East; Central meeting in Ethiopia on February 1962. He also went to London to gather support for his anti-apartheid movement. He met with journalists, activists and politicians. He then returned to Ethiopia to undergo guerilla training for two months before returning to South Africa.

Mandela was later arrested along with other major MK leaders. They were charged with sabotage and conspiracy in what is now known as “the Rivonia trial”. The offenders were charged with treason and sentenced to death. In the second indictment of the trial he gave a four-hour speech, in which he famously declared “it is a cause I’m prepared to die for”. Thereafter Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment along with most of the MK leaders. This occurred despite calls for leniency from the UN and the World Peace Council.

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” (Nelson Mandela – April 20, 1964)

Mandela was sent to the Robben Island prison where he spent 18 out of 27 years of imprisonment. During this time, he studied for a law degree from the University of London International Programmes. He also played a key role in establishing the “University of Robben Island”. This gave the opportunity to fellow prisoners to lecture on their areas of expertise. In the remaining 37 years, Mandela was sent to Pollsmoor prison and Victer Verser Prison. The said prison was at the level of comfort of a house due to illnesses. Thus, the apartheid government had made many offers for unconditional release.  The offers denied by Mandela. Instead, he continued to garner attention to the regime.  This made Mandela increasing popular in the international community.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s, the apartheid regime became increasingly weaker. Meanwhile Mandela continued to attract the attention of the international community. This resulted in constant pressure to the apartheid government to release Mandela.

On 11th February 1990, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison as a free man. He then released his autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom in 1994. In which he wrote about his early life and his 27 years of life in prison. As he declared that he would continue to work for peace and reconciliation. He spent four years travelling, meeting world leaders gathering support for his cause. In 1994 Mandela became the first black president of a new democratic South Africa.

“Prison itself is a tremendous education in the need for patience and perseverance. It is above all a test of one’s commitment.”

(Mandela, 1994)

 Throughout his presidency, Mandela tried to piece up a broken nation. That suffered from disease, poverty and crime. Then he brought up The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which unveiled crimes committed from both the apartheid government and the ANC. This was also initiated as a peace building process. As it was a way of understanding the two communities by bringing them together. Thereafter, in 1999, after one term in office, Mandela stepped down from the presidency.

“A leader… is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the mot nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”

(Mandela, 1994)

Despite stepping down from politics, Mandela was vocal on social issues particularly on equality and education. In 2005, the “Time Magazine” listed Mandela as one of the 100 most influential people. On the 18th July 2009, the United Nations General Assembly declared “Mandela Day”. This was in commemoration of his birthday and his work towards peace and reconciliation.

Mandela’s “long walk to freedom” came to an end on 5th December 2013. To which South Africa and the world mourned. However, his dedication for peace and equality is inspiring and sets a benchmark for future leaders to follow.


Picture of nelson Mandela:

Picture of the signboard:

Roger Omond, the Apartheid Handbook, 1986

Brian Lapping, Apartheid a History, 1986

Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 1994

by Tharindi Rangoda ,Intern BCIS /  International Relations student @Royal Institute of Colombo

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