Sri Lanka to summon Chinese envoy over controversial remarks

November 06, 2016 11:13 pm | Updated December 02, 2016 01:53 pm IST - COLOMBO:

Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Yi Xianliang.

Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Yi Xianliang.

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera will meet China’s Ambassador to place on record Colombo’s “displeasure” at the latter’s recent remarks. A Foreign Ministry source told The Hindu on Sunday: “We are trying to schedule a meeting.”

At a press conference last week, Chinese Ambassador Yi Xianliang had criticised Sri Lankan Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake’s remarks on Chinese loans being “expensive”, and asked why Colombo sought more loans if that was the case.

Chinese projects

Apparently taking objection, Mr. Karunanayake responded , saying: “I am the Sri Lankan Finance Minister, not the Chinese Foreign Minister.” He told reporters in Colombo: “If he says they have not given loans with an interest over 2 per cent fine — we have to pay only 2 per cent then.”

Following the January 2015 presidential polls, Colombo’s equation with Beijing changed considerably, with newly-elected President Maithripala Sirisena vowing to investigate corruption allegations related to Chinese-aided projects initiated by the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa administration.

At the same time, Colombo enhanced its ties with New Delhi, which had been concerned about the perceived ‘pro-China tilt’ of Mr. Rajapaksa.

After going back and forth on the $1.4 billion port city project, inaugurated by Chinese President Xi Jinping in September 2014, Colombo has now agreed to proceed with it after revising its agreement with Beijing, tweaking some conditions.

Even as the Colombo-Beijing ties seem to be getting back on track, Ambassador Yi’s recent remarks have shocked Sri Lankan officials, and surprised many in the diplomatic community here, who found the comments “uncharacteristic” of Chinese diplomacy.

The widely-read Sunday Times newspaper quoted a senior Foreign Ministry source as saying: “If Ambassador Yi had any complaint on behalf of himself or his Government, the accepted norm is to make representations to the appropriate source. That is the Foreign Ministry. His conduct is highly unprofessional and does not in any way foster good relations between Sri Lanka and China.”

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