Chinese and Sri Lankan national flags are seen in the port city of Colombo during the visit of Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Colombo, Sri Lanka, January 9, 2022. Photo: VCG

After Sri Lanka declared an economic emergency and asked China for help earlier this year, some Western and Indian conspirators once again went on a bashing spree against China and its Belt Initiative. and Road (BRI).

By maliciously linking Sri Lanka’s recent financial distress to Chinese investment in the country, they have been busy promoting the so-called “China debt trap” in an effort to mislead the public and attack China-Sri Lanka cooperation.

Some users created and spread rumors on social media in January that “the Chinese central bank issued banknotes with a face value of 10,000 rupees in Sri Lanka”, which were later denied. This misinformation insinuates China’s violation of Sri Lanka’s monetary sovereignty, smearing the mutually beneficial economic cooperation between the two sides as “unequal plunder” by China, observers told the Global Times.

With rumors of monetary sovereignty or the so-called “Chinese debt trap”, some Western countries, led by the United States, and India have attacked China’s overseas construction projects. However, their snaps have rarely been picked up in BRI countries, Chinese and Sri Lankan scholars said.

China is a good friend “with consistent economic policies, good business practices and a win-win attitude,” said Samitha Hettige, an adviser to Sri Lanka’s National Education Commission, in her article published in December on Sri Lanka’s English-language newspaper, Ceylan Today. “Relations between Sri Lanka and China are quite strong, based only on friendship and nothing to do with [business or politics]“, Hettige told the Global Times.

Disinformation campaign

Rumors of monetary sovereignty raged earlier in January, coinciding with Wang’s visit to Sri Lanka. One of the earliest rumor mongers was a Twitter user by the name of “bandhini fernando” who frequently posts misinformation against China, the Global Times has found. On January 9, “bandhini fernando” posted two fake photos of the “new Sri Lankan 10,000 rupee note”, claiming it was issued by the People’s Bank of China.

“Wang Yi officially handed over a new currency to Sri Lanka during his meeting with [Sri Lankan] President,” Bandhini Fernando wrote. The user claimed the “new banknote” could be used in Sri Lanka and referred to the Chinese-invested Colombo Port City and Hambantota Port projects as “Chinese territory.”

The rumor was refuted the following day by Sri Lankan fact-checking agency Factcrescendo, which cited a response from Central Bank of Sri Lanka Deputy Governor CJP Siriwardana, saying the bank was not currently considering a issue a bank of 10,000 rupees. note and the highest monetary value in Sri Lanka remains 5,000 rupees.

The “China debt trap”, an old accusation however, is another smear campaign by the West and India against China-Sri Lanka economic cooperation. The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded by saying the accusations are not true. “China-Sri Lanka cooperation is mutually beneficial and has been warmly welcomed by all sectors in Sri Lanka,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Jan. 10.

There is no “China debt trap,” Hettige noted. “Total Chinese lending is just over 10% of our total mortgage portfolio, and China is actually the fourth largest. [creditor]behind international capital markets, multilateral development banks and Japan,” he told the Global Times, pointing out that “the media has not shown the fact.”

The role of the United States and India

The United States and India are playing a major role in the smear campaign against China-Sri Lanka cooperation and Chinese-funded projects in the country, observers have found.

“Sri Lanka has not fallen into the debt trap,” Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa once stressed in the presence of then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as reported Sri Lankan news site Ada Derana in October 2020. Readers often see mainstream American newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy and The Atlantic, run joking articles about the so-called “Chinese debt trap”. Responding to slanders and attacks, Rajapaksa said in an official statement in October 2020 that “the construction of a port at Hambantota is an idea of ​​Sri Lanka, not China”. He also added that the project has vast potential for generating income and employment opportunities for his country.

“The United States frequently vilifies Chinese-invested projects in Sri Lanka, partly out of hope that Sri Lanka will give up [the BRI] and choose the [aid plans] U.S. offers,” said Qian Feng, director of the research department at Tsinghua University’s National Institute of Strategy.

“Some Indian government officials and journalists still view South Asia as India’s ‘sphere of influence’, wary of so-called ‘external forces’ developing relations with other countries in the region” , Qian said while stressing that “with hostility towards China, they see China’s cooperation with countries like Sri Lanka as a weakening of India’s power of influence there.”