Chairing its second multilateral discussion with South Asian partners in the last four months, China on Tuesday brought together key Foreign Ministry officials from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan in a virtual conference.
According to a press release issued by the Chinese Embassy in Colombo, the initiative was aimed at discussing a collective response to the second wave of COVID-19. “The Five Parties [as the statement referred to the participants] had in-depth exchanges on cementing the political consensus on jointly fighting COVID-19, enhancing cooperation on containing the coronavirus and restoring economic development and movement of people, and achieved positive results,” the Embassy said. The virtual meet comes less than four months after China chaired a quadrilateral meet with the foreign ministers of Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan, in a bid to strengthen cooperation among the four nations in pandemic response and economic recovery.
Sri Lanka’s State Minister for Regional Co-operation Tharaka Balasuriya, Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen, Nepali Foreign Secretary Bharat Raj Paudyal, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood joined the recent online discussion, chaired by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui.
“The Five Parties”, agreed to advance Belt and Road cooperation to “boost post-COVID-19 economic recovery and development”, and concurred that countries linked by land ports should establish joint response mechanisms in border areas, apart from committing to greater information sharing and international cooperation, according to the press release.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) figured prominently in the July virtual discussion too, when State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan and moving forward on an economic corridor plan with Nepal.
The two virtual meets appear part of China’s growing engagement in the region, in the wake of the global pandemic. Reeling under the effect of Covid-19 its economic fallout, Sri Lanka is counting on China to cope with the economic crisis. In March, Beijing extended a $500 million-loan to Colombo as “urgent financial assistance”. The Rajapaksa administration has sought a further $700 million loan from China, in addition to a nearly $1.5-billion currency swap facility.
Earlier this month, the Communist Party of China and the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Front) came together for an ‘Advanced Seminar on Governance Experience’ in Colombo.
Meanwhile, in a curious development earlier this week, the State-run Daily News on Monday reported that President Xi Jinping and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa spoke on Zoom. However, the Chinese Embassy denied the story in a tweet. When contacted, the Presidential Media Division in Colombo declined comment.