If the Rubber-Rice Pact of 1952 sowed the seeds of good and enduring relations between China and Sri Lanka, the decision to build the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) with Chinese technical and financial help in 1964, cemented ties between the two countries.
The importance of these events lies in their historical context. The Rubber-Rice pact was the result of a dire economic need in both countries. Lanka desperately needed rice to feed its population. The US was not willing to give Lanka a US$ 50 million loan to buy rice. The US was also not offering a fair price for Lankan rubber. Communist China badly needed rubber because the US had banned the sale of rubber, a strategic material, to Communist China.
The situation called for out of the box thinking. Barter of Chinese rice for Sri Lankan rubber was suggested and accepted because it suited both countries.1 Lanka got rice at a cheaper price and got a higher price for its rubber. The deal lasted till 1982. To enable it to play its new-found international role, Lanka needed a large and modern international conference hall. China’s help was sought, and it was given free of charge. The result was the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) named after Mrs. Bandaranaike’s husband and former Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike, who had initiated the post-independence movement against domination by the West.
- 1. In 1964, both Lanka and China needed international linkages to assert their independence from the Western powers led by the US. During the Premiership of Mrs.Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Lanka had set itself free from the apron strings which had traditionally tied it to the West. Lanka was part of the anti-imperialist Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Mrs. Bandaranaike wanted to be a pillar of NAM along with India, Indonesia, Egypt, Yugoslavia and Ghana. China needed to assert its independence and pursue its One China policy against a hostile United States and get its due status in the UN.