Sri Lankans favor China due to religion, politics

Mendis, an associate-in-research at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University, discussed relations between China and Sri Lanka with special attention to recent criticisms by India.

The Indian government has chided Sri Lanka in the past few years for being too closely aligned with China, and has been competing with Beijing for primacy in the island country. Shortly after China leased the Port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka for 99 years at a cost of US$1.1 billion in July, India offered US$290 million for a 40-year lease of the country’s southeastern Mattala Airport.

Mendis, who was born in Sri Lanka and is now an American citizen, explained the reasons that Sri Lankans often trust China over India.

“China has never invaded Sri Lanka, but India invaded Sri Lanka many, many times. China has built roads and other things for people in Sri Lanka to have a better future.”

“So people tend to have the same kind of mindset, that we don’t like the Indians,” Mendis continued, “and they are Hindus, they destroyed Buddhism – we like Chinese people.”

Mendis added “Now Indians want to do business with us, so they are friends and they are talking about Buddhism.”

Statistics show about 18 percent of China’s population are Buddhists, making it the largest number of adherents to the religion in any country across the globe.

Despite these diplomatic challenges, Mendis said that Sri Lanka wants to achieve a balance between the East and the West and have strong ties with China, India, America and Japan, among other countries.

Mendis compared Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s new foreign policy to the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson, a founding father and the third president of the USA: “peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none.” (

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