Hosting visiting Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena at the imposing Great Hall of the People, Chinese President Xi Jinping said in his opening remarks on Thursday that Sri Lanka is a strategic partner and Beijing wants to “again promote and elevate the China-Sri Lanka relationship to fulfil an important purpose.”
China had entrenched itself in Sri Lanka following the end of the 2009 civil war, but citing lack of transparency, the Sirisena administration has called for review of the multi-million infrastructure projects that had been granted by the rival government of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Defining a new conceptual framework for the future, Mr. Liu stressed that the Sri Lankan President had “agreed to put all the projects in Sri Lanka in the general framework of the 21st century Maritime Silk Road”.
The decision implies that additional sources of funding would be available to Sri Lanka, including the $40 billion China-backed Silk Road Fund and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) — an initiative that has been steered by Beijing.
Military support Mr. Liu clarified that all existing projects could also be included within the new MSR framework. “If it is put in the framework, it will be a good idea,” he observed.
Mr. Liu said that future defence ties with Sri Lanka would revolve around training of military personnel and provision of “military equipment”. The recalibration of the military relationship comes after Sri Lanka made it clear that the country would no longer host the docking of foreign submarines in its ports, following India’s strong objections to the visit last year of a Chinese submarine on two occasions in Colombo.
Steering clear of a geopolitical competition with India ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China in May, Mr. Liu said discussions were held on the possibility of a trilateral cooperation involving China, India and Sri Lanka, within the ambit of the China-South Asia partnership.
However, the Chinese official made it plain that the idea of the trilateral partnership was still nascent, and it was not specifically discussed during the recently concluded visit to India of China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi.
China-South Asia ties The trilateral cooperation “really touches upon Chinese-South Asia cooperation,” Mr. Liu observed, pointing out that “general discussions in the South Asian framework” were held during Mr. Yang’s presence in India for border talks with his counterpart Ajit Doval.