AAs the massive protest in Colombo made headlines around the world, the news spread through Chinese state media and social media platforms. Sri Lanka’s declaration of national bankruptcy and the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa were the most discussed topics on Chinese social media.
The hashtag “President of Sri Lanka officially announces his resignation” has been viewed more than 78 million times on Weibo. The hashtag “Massive protest march in Sri Lanka” has been viewed 180 million times on Weibo. Chinese search engine Baidu has set up a special page to track developments in Sri Lanka. The twist? Chinese nationalists immediately accused the United States of organizing the protests. While many blamed China’s infrastructure programs for worsening Sri Lanka’s debt crisis, the Chinese had a different focus. Most agreed there was a ‘color revolution’ and a ‘CIA-led coup’ in the island nation.
“The protests in Sri Lanka were organized by the United States Agency for International Development, with the ghost of the CIA everywhere, and called on Western countries not to intervene in the protests in Sri Lanka because it is a color revolution! Sri Lanka is a milestone on the Belt and Road, and the United States is desperately trying to figure it out,” said Huang An, a Taiwanese singer based in Beijing. Huang has over 6 million followers on Weibo.
Other users shared a screenshot of a tweet by a handful called “SNMilitary”, which claims the protest in Sri Lanka was orchestrated by USAID. The Twitter account added that the protest was a “color revolution” backed by “Western diplomats”. The account claims to be a “naval veteran” and mostly shares pro-Russian tweets.
“A CIA-backed coup in Sri Lanka is a fact. Western diplomats backed them and urged them not to interfere. Things in Sri Lanka are a color revolution,” one Weibo user quoted a tweet from SNMilitary.
The popularity of the tweet on Sina Weibo shows the influence of pro-Russian propaganda related to the Sri Lankan crisis on Chinese public opinion.
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“What does bankruptcy mean” – China wants to know
In addition to blaming the United States, media commentators have attempted to explain the reasons for Sri Lanka’s economic crisis and subsequent political turmoil.
On July 10, the article Crimes and Punishments of Sri Lanka’s Bankruptcy Crisis by Guangzhou Southern Weekly has been read 1.1 million times on Weibo. The article examines the internal reasons for the predicament of Sri Lanka.
“Due to the outbreak, the tourism industry has been hit hard and related service industries such as aviation, hotels and restaurants have declined, resulting in the deterioration of Sri Lanka’s economy. Lanka over the past two years. The Sri Lankan government is eager to reform and has borrowed heavily, resulting in high debt and could become the economy’s ‘first downfall’ after the outbreak,” the official said. Weekly South article, originally published on April 21.
The news from Sri Lanka has also left social media users wondering what it means to “declare bankruptcy”. The hashtag “What does declaring national bankruptcy mean?” has been viewed 30 million times on Weibo.
“The financial term ‘national bankruptcy’ was proposed by the International Monetary Fund in 2002 and referred to the situation where a country’s external assets are less than its external liabilities, i.e. insolvency “, Beijing Economic News explained in a video.
Some users blamed the Western-led IMF for Sri Lanka’s fate.
The most seasoned Chinese experts have tried to examine the crisis through the framework of geopolitics.
“In this crisis in Sri Lanka, the United States, Japan, India and Australia plan to “form a delegation” to set up a foreign aid consortium to collectively respond to the crisis. On the surface, the four countries fulfill their respective duties, but overall they reinforce the “legitimacy” of the “Quad mechanism” to deal with the crisis. In fact, the ‘quadruple mechanism’ is a small group to push out China and contain its influence,” wrote Xu Liping, a researcher at the Institute of Asia-Pacific and Global Strategy of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. social Sciences.
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Unclear language, clear message
Beijing is scrambling to find the right narrative of political unrest in Sri Lanka.
Chinese state media repeated some of the previous talking points challenging the “debt trap” argument for the Sri Lankan crisis.
“Multiple factors to blame for Sri Lanka’s woes,” read the headline of an unsigned English editorial in the China Daily.
China only ranks third among Sri Lanka’s creditors after Japan and the Asian Development Bank, accounting for only 10% of its debt. Its loans have primarily served Sri Lanka’s infrastructure and economic development,” the editorial said.
There are multiple accounts in China about the handling of the situation in Sri Lanka. China has not supported any faction that could replace the Rajapaksas.
“China doesn’t lean towards one faction or the other…that’s why previous Sri Lankan governments have all wanted to maintain friendly and cooperative ties with China,” said Liu Zongyi, senior researcher at the Shanghai Institute of International Studies.
“Regarding Sri Lanka’s debts related to China, China supports relevant financial institutions to negotiate with Sri Lanka to seek an appropriate solution. We are ready to work with the countries concerned and the international financial institutions to continue to play a positive role for Sri Lanka in order to face the current difficulties, alleviate the debt burden and achieve sustainable development,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Tuesday.
We can safely say that China does not want to extend its support for the island nation’s crisis.
The author is a freelance columnist and journalist. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in international politics with a focus on China at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He was previously a Chinese media reporter at the BBC World Service. He tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)