China has called on Sri Lanka to “make efforts to protect and promote human rights”, amid continuing debate over the island nation’s hosting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

While calling on other countries to “provide constructive assistance”, the Chinese government, which has in the past been among Sri Lanka’s strongest supporters against the international community’s criticism following the end of the war, said it was important for Sri Lanka to protect human rights.

“This is an issue within the Commonwealth, but at the same time I believe that on the human rights issue, dialogue and communication should be enhanced among countries,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang told reporters at a press briefing on Monday, in response to a question about the CHOGM summit.

“Due to differences in economic and social development of different countries, there could be differences on human rights protection. So what is important is that the relevant country should make efforts to protect and promote human rights, while other countries in the world should provide constructive assistance,” he said.

The comments appear to mark a slight shift in China’s earlier strong backing to Colombo on the issue. Only last year, when asked about international criticism aimed at Sri Lanka in the lead-up to a United States-backed resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council, China lauded Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government for making “great strides” in promoting human rights and said it believed that the “Sri Lankan government and people are capable of handling their own affairs”.

Last week, China was granted a seat on the 47-member human rights council for a three-year period.

On Sunday, Mr. Rajapaksa said he appreciated China’s help in post-war reconstruction efforts, telling reporters in Colombo that China had provided loans for ports, highways and power plants. Even the venue for the CHOGM meeting — the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall — was donated by China in the 1970s and refurbished for the meeting, the State-run Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying.

In 2009, China’s loans to Sri Lanka exceeded India’s, with Beijing becoming the single largest provider of financial support, offering $1.2 billion.