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Yang Jiechi Sri Lanka Visit: India China Competition Continues

Published Oct 11, 2020
Updated Oct 11, 2020

As per extracts derived from Colombo Page, a seven- member delegation led by Yang Jiechi, Politburo member of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat on October 9. “The present status of bilateral relations between China and Sri Lanka is highly satisfactory.

Maintaining and promoting this friendship is a key priority of President Xi Jingping,” the head of the delegation said adding that China will firmly stand with Sri Lanka to protect the country’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity at international fora including United Nations Human Rights Council. This remark comes even as Sri Lanka is facing a number of criticisms for reneging on commitments towards Human Rights

Wang Xiaotao, Chairman of the China International Development Cooperation Agency, Deng Lee, Assistant Foreign Minister of China, Hu Wei, Chargé d’affaires of the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka, Chen Song, Deputy Director General of Department of Asian Affairs at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardene, Secretary to the President P. B. Jayasundera, Principal Advisor to the President LalithWeeratunga, Foreign Secretary Admiral JayanathColombage and Sri Lanka’s Ambassador Designate to China Dr. PalithaKohona were also present at the discussion.

The President recalled contribution of China for the development of country’s infrastructure facilities such as Hambantota Port, the Port City project, Southern Expressway are some of them, the President noted .“Constructing a port in Hambantota is an idea of Sri Lanka and not China’s.

We were convinced that it would be a project with a vast potential for generating income and employment opportunities. China offered to fund it. Many geo-political analysis interprets this project as ‘debt trap’ set up by China to gain control over Sri Lankan affairs. I want to prove that it is not the case and that this large-scale project will help improve the living standards of the people,” he said. Recalling his visits to China they said, “There are massive development especially in rural areas.

Our target is to bring about similar development especially in rural areas in Sri Lanka and to raise the living conditions of the people in this country, especially that of the poor. We look forward to see a visible progress in the Port City project over the next four years.”

President Rajapaksa noting that Sri Lanka’s trade deficit with China is high called on the leader of the delegation to increase the volume of goods purchased from Sri Lanka to bring it down.

“Sri Lanka has a strong private sector. They manufacture various products. Open the Chinese market for these items. Encourage Chinese investors to invest in Sri Lanka. Promote Chinese people to visit Sri Lanka. If China can participate in the Sri Lanka’s tea auction, it will be a major boost to economic stability,” he said.

Explaining the limited tertiary educational opportunities available to Sri Lanka youth who pass GCE Advanced Level, the President mentioned that establishing a University of Technology for them will be an area where China can invest in Sri Lanka.

“We are eagerly waiting for President Rajapaksa to undertake an official visit to China, once the COVID – 19 pandemic successfully contained globally,” Mr. Yang said. 

Earlier member of the Communist Party Political Bureau Yang Jiechi called on Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees on Oct 09.

“I am pleased that Sri Lanka and China have been able to further strengthen the existing strong bilateral ties through this visit. I thank the Chinese Government for its generous support to Sri Lanka in the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic,” Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said noting that this is the first visit of a Chinese diplomatic mission to the South Asian region since the global breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Chinese government should be thanked for donating safety equipment and medical supplies to protect Sri Lankan citizens in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic,” he added.

The visit comes days after Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s first-ever virtual summit meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held on September 26.

As per Col R Hariharan, noted expert on Sri Lanka and China relations, “Both the leaders are trying to manage in their own ways – China – the elephant in the room. The two countries are affected by four criticalities impacting their multilateral relations, in which they can help each other.

These are: economic recovery after the havoc created by the Covid pandemic, strategic security compulsions of worsening India – China relations, threat of terrorism and insurgency from third country and managing the 4-nation Quadrilateral linkages to ensure freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific.

Of course, there are two perennial areas of suspicion, distrust and dissension: Tamil Nadu fishermen poaching in Sri Lankan waters and the implementation of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord 1987 in letter and spirit to meet the aspirations of Tamil minority in Sri Lanka (and as a corollary implementation of 13th amendment to Sri Lanka constitution providing limited provincial autonomy)”.