Nonalignment to balance China's influence on Sri Lanka: negotiating China's "string of pearls" strategy for the Pearl of the Indian Ocean
Arangalla, Chandana Priyantha
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Sri Lanka, particularly since 2008, has become more closely aligned with China in geopolitical affairs, upsetting the balance of its relationship with two other powers in the Indian Ocean: the United States and India. Sri Lanka has become more beholden to China for two main reasons--heavy indebtedness (more than $5 billion) and unfavorable terms and conditions agreed to with China in bilateral agreements while developing key infrastructure facilities in the country. After winning a 30-year-long war against terrorism in 2009, Sri Lanka now must struggle to extricate itself from a debt trap set by China. Against this background, this thesis explores the extent to which the Sri Lankan government can adopt nonalignment as the governing principle of its foreign policy. The thesis presents two possible scenarios: the successful adoption of nonalignment, balancing Sri Lanka's geostrategic interests with major Indian Ocean Region (IOR) power players, and the failure to adopt nonalignment, putting Sri Lanka at risk to China's coercive soft and hard power and compelling Sri Lanka to align more actively with the United States and India. This thesis evaluates historical evidence and recent developments, considers the status quo, and conducts a threefold case study of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. This thesis shows that nonalignment could promote balance in geopolitics and the international political economy in the 21st century. Finally, this thesis makes two types of recommendations; one specific to Sri Lanka, and the other suggesting a nonalignment model for economically weaker countries to follow when dealing with stronger countries.
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