China’s Engagement with Maritime Nations: A Case Study

Throughout Sri Lanka’s pre-colonial history, trade with Chinese merchants, transhipment of Chinese goods, embarking of Chinese ships and people was an ordinary occurrence. Similarly, relations with the Malay Peninsula span over 2,000 years, as China protected Malaysia from foreign invasion and also traded with them. Malaysia and Sri Lanka were initial subscribers of the Belt & Road Initiative, when it was launched in 2013. Hence, the problem identified for this research is: why are China’s relations with Sri Lanka and Malaysia through the 21st century Maritime Silk Route being criticised, despite China having maintained longstanding relations with both these states through the Ancient Silk Route? Towards, this end, objectives of this research are two-fold, i.e. to examine Ancient China’s engagement with maritime nations in the Indian Ocean; and secondly, to compare the ancient relations with that of the relations it maintains with these two states in the 21st Century. As an explanatory study, it utilises the case study methodology, with Malaysia and Sri Lanka as the cases. Thematic analysis was employed to analyse the data. It was examined that China’s relations with maritime countries in the 21st century has altered significantly due to the power rivalry in the Indian Ocean Region. However, from a Neoclassical Realist perspective, it revealed that trade and commercial ties remain the backbone of the interactions between China and the two maritime states. In conclusion, it can be ascertained that China’s modern interactions with maritime nations continue to be underpinned by economic interactions, and secondly, that China’s contemporary interactions with Malaysia and Sri Lanka are underscored by geopolitical considerations.

This joint paper was presented at the INCOIRe 2020 conference in November 2020.

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