News Brief

Sri Lanka: Chinese Embassy Trolled After Embarrassing Public Meltdown On Dalai Lama's Possible Visit

Swarajya StaffTuesday, January 17, 2023 6:13 pm IST
Chinese and Sri Lankan national flags hoisted at Tian'anmen Square in Beijing.
Chinese and Sri Lankan national flags hoisted at Tian'anmen Square in Beijing.

The Chinese embassy in Sri Lanka recently had a public meltdown on social media over reports of a possible visit by the Dalai Lama to the island nation. In response to the reports, the embassy issued a statement on Twitter strongly opposing any foreign country receiving the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

The statement referred to the Dalai Lama as a "political exile disguised as a religious figure" who has been engaging in "anti-China separatist activities" and attempting to split Tibet from China.

It went on to say that China and Sri Lanka have a strong relationship and that both sides, particularly the Buddhist communities, must prevent the Dalai Lama's visit in order to promote "Tibetan independence" and safeguard the China-Sri Lanka relations from being damaged

However, the statement and its strong language have been met with backlash on social media, with many accusing the embassy of using misinformation to target the Dalai Lama and other Tibetans seeking autonomy and independence from Chinese Communist Party rule.

This is not the first time China has reacted strongly to the possibility of the Dalai Lama visiting Sri Lanka. In 2015, China had expressed appreciation for Sri Lanka's stance on the issue and it seems unlikely that the government would grant him a visa to visit.

As China has grown more economically powerful, it has used its influence to dissuade world leaders from meeting the Dalai Lama, whom it denounces as a dangerous separatist.

However, only a handful of countries outright prohibit him from visiting. This pressure is likely to work in China's favor once again as Sri Lanka is currently looking towards Beijing for debt restructuring, and the Chinese Communist Party is playing hardball on the issue.

Sri Lanka has been dealing with a difficult economic situation since 2020 and requires the backing of China and India, its biggest bilateral lenders, to reach a final agreement with the IMF on the $2.9 billion loan that is essential to put its economy back on track.

Sri Lanka's debt situation is dire as it owes Chinese lenders $7.4 billion - nearly a fifth of its public external debt - by the end of last year, according to calculations by the China Africa Research Initiative (CARI).

The country also owes India around $1 billion that will come under the debt restructuring plan. New Delhi separately provided Sri Lanka with about $4 billion in rapid assistance between January and July last year, including credit lines, a currency swap arrangement, and deferred import payments.

Given the significant debt Sri Lanka owes to both China and India, it's no surprise that the country is treading carefully when it comes to the Dalai Lama's visit.

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