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Nikkei Editorial

A barbaric act of mass murder in Sri Lanka

The world should help the South Asian country root out terrorism

A view of the blast damage inside St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, on April 22   © Reuters

A wave of bombings hit Christian churches and luxury hotels in three Sri Lankan cities -- including Colombo, the nation's largest city -- on April 21, killing over 300 people and injuring about 500 more. The attacks appear to have targeted Christian residents and foreigners.

We strongly condemn this barbaric act of mass murder.

The bombings, which occurred almost simultaneously at three churches and three hotels, were a cruel and calculated slaughter, timed to take place on Easter Sunday, one of the most important days of the year for Christians.

The South Asian nation went through a bitter 26-year-long military conflict between members of the country's predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese majority, which comprises 75% of the population, and the largely Hindu Tamils, who account for about 15% of the population. By targeting Christians, who make up only 7% of the population, the bombings appear different in nature from the strife seen during the civil war.

Some experts suspect that domestic Islamic militants linked with the Islamic State group were involved. We hope the Sri Lankan government quickly uncovers the truth and takes measures to counter terrorism. Under no circumstances can the dirty hands of terrorists be allowed to turn Sri Lanka -- a country that has restored peace after a long and painful civil war -- into a battlefield again.

Since the end of the civil war in 2009, public security has significantly improved. The country has transformed itself from "war-torn" to "restorative." Its ample tourism resources -- from its rich Buddhist heritage to its deep history with Ayurvedic medicine, one of the world's oldest holistic healing therapies -- make it a popular travel destination. Sri Lanka often ranks high on the list of "foreign countries you want to visit most" in surveys by travel agencies.

Sri Lanka is located along the Indian Ocean's most important sea lanes for trade and commerce. It is also a small island state susceptible to political interference by big powers.

In recent years, China has ramped up its infrastructure investment in Sri Lanka, which Beijing has positioned as a hub for its Belt and Road Initiative to build a massive economic zone spanning continents. China has effectively taken control of ports in Colombo and the southern city of Hambantota.

Amid this development push, Sri Lanka fell into China's "debt trap." Beijing partnered with local politicians hungry for infrastructure projects, extended loans without regard to profitability and seized control in exchange for a debt-for-equity swap scheme to reduce Sri Lanka's burden.

Not a few Sri Lankans are alarmed by the prospect of being led by politicians who are overly dependent on China. Public opinion and politics on the island are always fluctuating over the country's relationship with China. 

Such skepticism among the public was a major factor behind Mahinda Rajapaksa's defeat in the 2015 presidential election. Rajapaksa's loss at the polls came after a 10-year stint as president, during which he helped force the civil war to end with support from China and Pakistan.

Current President Maithripala Sirisena, who turned against former ally Rajapaksa to take the reins of power, has not displayed strong leadership and has failed to win the trust of either parliament or the Sri Lankan people. In October 2018, Sirisena's strategy of inviting Rajapaksa into the administration as prime minister failed, underscoring the fragility of Sri Lankan politics.

Terrorists sneak into society when they think they can take advantage of an unstable government. Good public security requires political stability. Sri Lanka would be wise not to depend on China alone for economic development. This is not an issue that affects only Sri Lanka, as instability in the island nation would shake the foundations of the Asia-Pacific region. 

Now is the time for the rest of the world to fully commit to supporting Sri Lanka, not least of all in helping prevent terrorism from taking root there.

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