In Sri Lanka, Saddled with Chinese Debt, “Friendship Organizations” Linked to China’s Communist Party Express Support for New Law Targeting Hong Kong
On June 2, five Sri Lankan “friendship organizations” with links to the Chinese Embassy and the United Front Work Department (UFWD), an arm of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), issued a joint statement offering support for China’s new national security law that grants Beijing increased anti-sedition authority over Hong Kong, further undermining its autonomy and traditional freedoms. The joint statement from these organizations also criticized alleged foreign interference in response to the new law. The statement noted:
“We are pleased and encouraged to see the National People’s Congress of China has adopted (the) decision to make Hong Kong national security laws, which will definitely enhance peace, stability, and prosperity of Hong Kong and the whole region… We believe the new national security law for Hong Kong will not only abide by but also enhance ‘one country, two systems’ and guarantee the legitimate rights of (the) people of Hong Kong.”
The UFWD receives top-down directives from the Politburo through the Central Committee Leading Small Group on United Front Work and plays an active role in the projection of soft power by championing CCP policies abroad, implementing influence operations, and gathering foreign intelligence through a coalition of subordinate and affiliated organizations (like those in Sri Lanka). In short, UFWD is considered a strategic policy tool for consolidating the CCP’s political interests and influence at home and abroad.
China has invested significantly in Sri Lanka over the past 10 years, including, most notably, acquiring a 99-year lease on the strategic Hambantota Port after the country’s debt burden made repayment of Chinese loans untenable. China’s lending and investment in Sri Lanka, and the assets it has taken control over in the process, have made the country a flashpoint for international concern about “debt trap diplomacy” and “predatory economics” (i.e., China’s use of lending and investment activity to gain long-term influence and pursue strategic objectives).
It is in this broader context that these five local organizations, with the support of the Chinese state, are offering an “international” voice of support to the Chinese government’s crackdown on Hong Kong. It is noteworthy that these groups have a platform for this kind of rhetorical support, which could be seen as a reflection of China’s success in carving out influence in the country using economic and financial means.
The five organizations issuing the statement are: the Sri Lanka-China Friendship Association, the Sri Lanka-China Society, the Association for Sri Lanka-China Social and Cultural Cooperation, the Sri Lanka-China Buddhist Friendship Association, and the Sri Lanka-China Journalists’ Forum.
- Two of the five organizations, the Sri Lanka-China Friendship Association and the Sri Lanka-China Society, are affiliated with the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), which has been identified as a “public face” of the UFWD and works to promote the interests of the Chinese Communist Party.
- The Association for Sri Lanka-China Social and Cultural Cooperation has worked closely with the Chinese Embassy and has worked with UFWD-related entities, including the Xining Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Office.
- The Sri Lanka-China Journalists’ Forum, is associated with the Sri Lanka-China Friendship Association (and thus the UFWD) via its participation in the Organization for South Asian Regional Friendship and Cooperation with China (OSARFCC) and also works closely with the Chinese Embassy. The organization has previously participated in events organized by the Belt and Road Journalists Network, which aims to promote and coordinate positive coverage of the Belt and Road Initiative.
- The Sri Lanka-China Buddhist Friendship Association is also recognized by the Chinese Embassy and is associated with the Sri Lanka-China Friendship Association via its Vice-President, who is the brother of one of its leaders. The organization has previously offered its praise for the Belt and Road Initiative.