China has underlined its strong backing to Sri Lanka by calling on the international community “to respect the right of the Sri Lankan government and people to choose their own path of promoting human rights”, amid recent criticism of the country’s human rights record.

With the issue coming under renewed attention following the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo, the Chinese Embassy, in a statement issued in the Sri Lankan capital on Thursday, said it was Beijing’s view that the Sri Lankan government and people “have the wisdom and capacity to deal appropriately with its internal affairs”.

The statement comes weeks after the conclusion of the CHOGM meeting, with countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada and Mauritius sharply criticising Sri Lanka’s human rights record, particularly with regard to alleged human rights violations and war crimes by the Sri Lankan armed forces during the final phase of the island’s ethnic conflict that ended in May 2009.

Observing that China opposed any effort to politicise or have double standards on human rights, or “to pressurise other countries using human rights as a tool”, the statement hailed Sri Lanka’s human rights record, which several rights groups have been scrutinising due to prevalent allegations.

‘Big strides’

“Over the years, Sri Lanka has made big strides in promoting human rights and realising national reconciliation,” it said, adding that China supported the Sri Lankan government’s efforts to safeguard independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The international community, China said, should refrain from “complicating” the issue.

The statement from the Embassy appeared to suggest a move by Beijing to underline its support to Sri Lanka on the issue in unequivocal terms against the backdrop of renewed debate within the international community.

China has, in the past, been Sri Lanka’s strongest supporter at the United Nations, shielding Colombo from international criticism over its human rights record.

Chinese officials in Beijing this week stressed that there was no change in the government’s “persistent” stand on the issue.

Last week, the Chinese Foreign Ministry, in a press briefing on November 18, said in response to a question about Sri Lanka’s hosting of the CHOGM summit that it was of the view that while the issue was the “internal affair” of the Commonwealth and “differences” on human rights protection were not unusual because of differing national conditions, it was “most important” for the concerned countries to improve human rights conditions.

“We have been upholding that on the issue of human rights, the international community should enhance mutual understanding and cooperation through dialogues and exchanges to jointly promote the international cause of human rights in a constructive way,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Following the CHOGM summit, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa voiced his “appreciation” for China’s help in post-war reconstruction efforts, highlighting loans provided for the construction of ports, highways and power plants.

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