Provided Sri Lanka a platform to project itself internationally | Sunday Observer
BMICH cemented Sino-Lankan ties:

Provided Sri Lanka a platform to project itself internationally

14 May, 2023

The Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH), which celebrated its 50th anniversary on May 10, has a symbolic value in modern Sri Lankan history. It symbolised independent Sri Lanka’s desire to be a more beautiful island in the Indian Ocean and play an influential role in international affairs on par with other newly independent countries of Asia and Africa.

The vision of the then Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, was not to become part of any power bloc but to play an independent role to bridge the gap between the Western and Soviet bloc and promote peace and amity in the world.

Bandaranaike, who had already attained global stature as the world’s first woman Prime Minister, desired a platform to project the new role she had envisioned for Sri Lanka. In view of the Western world’s hostility to Sri Lanka owing to the controversy over rubber prices and the move to take over Britain’s military bases, the Prime Minister turned to China.

Though aligned with the Soviets, the Chinese had rescued Sri Lanka from a severe rice and foreign exchange crisis in the early 1950s by entering into a Rice-Rubber barter deal in 1952.

Even though Sri Lanka desperately needed to import rice as there was a foreign exchange shortage, the US was not willing to give a US$ 50 million loan to purchase rice, nor was it offering a fair price for Lankan rubber. At the same time, Communist China was facing a bad shortage of rubber as the US had banned the sale of rubber, a strategic material, to Communist China then fighting a war against the US in Korea.

On its part, China needed to assert its independence against a hostile US which had denied it its rightful place in the UN and the Security Council.

To play its new-found international role, Sri 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 Bandaranaike’s husband and former Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike, who had initiated the post-independence movement against Western domination.

“SWRD” had become Prime Minister in 1956. In 1957, Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai and Vice Premier He Long visited Lanka. During the visit, SWRD and Zhou Enlai jointly adopted the Five Principles of Co-existence and the Bandung Principles for the achievement of world peace. On February 4, 1957, SWRD invited Zhou Enlai to be chief guest at the ninth Sri Lankan Independence Day celebrations. According to a bilingual book on the BMICH entitled “A Symbol of China-Sri Lankan Friendship” Zhou Enlai spoke in the pouring rain “which moved the audience”.

In February 1964, when SWRD’s widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, was Prime Minister, China’s Vice Chairman, Song Qingling and Premier Zhou Enlai visited Lanka. It was during this visit that “Mrs. B” requested China to help build a modern and capacious conference hall. The request was granted and China decided to gift the building.

The work was assigned to the Beijing Industrial Building Design Institute of the Ministry of Works with the design principles enunciated by Zhou Enlai himself. His principles were as follows: The building scale shall be appropriate for Sri Lanka’s conditions and requirements. It shall adapt to the tropical climate and reflect the local style. The internal facilities and equipment shall be modern.

The Building Design Institute sent a delegation to Lanka headed by its Vice President Yuan Jingshe and included Chief Architect Dai Nianci. Continued on page 12