Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, who on Monday kicked off his visit to India, could soon visit China – possibly even his second overseas trip following India – with Colombo set to dispatch its Foreign Minister to Beijing next week.
Officials told India Today that Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera will visit Beijing on February 27 and 28, and hold talks with his counterpart Wang Yi as well as top Chinese leaders. The FM may meet with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang or President Xi Jinping, sources said.
Top of the agenda is firming up President Sirisena’s first visit to China, which will take place this year, the sources added.
Beijing has stepped up its efforts to court the new government in Colombo, which has indicated it will likely be more sensitive to India’s concerns than the previous administration of Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose decade-long tenure China emerged as the biggest financial lender to Sri Lanka.
Earlier this month, China dispatched Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao to Colombo as the government’s special envoy. Foreign Minister Samaraweera assured him that the new government “welcomes China’s investment in and assistance to Sri Lanka and expects to strengthen practical cooperation with the Chinese side in various fields”, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
Following Liu’s visit, it emerged that a controversial Chinese-backed port city project in Colombo, which Sirisena’s party had pledged to review in the lead-up to the election on account of environmental concerns — much to Beijing’s anxiety — would likely go ahead as planned. A senior official of the Chinese firm that is executing the project told India Today last week that the Sri Lankan government had already given necessary approvals and that the firm was “sure” that the project would go ahead.
Foreign Minister Liu also told Samaraweera that China saw Sri Lanka as a key partner in its new “Maritime Silk Road” project, which aims to build ports and free trade zones in Southeast Asia and in the Indian Ocean. China this week operationalised a $40 billion “Silk Road” fund, expected to support infrastructure projects in countries in the region.
For Sri Lanka, the fund will provide much needed financial support at a time when the government is grappling with rising foreign debt. Samaraweera will likely use his visit next week to assure Beijing that Sri Lanka, which is in dire need of infrastructure especially in war-torn northern areas, will continue to deepen economic ties with China, with few other countries, including India, appearing as willing as Beijing to open their wallets to Colombo. (India Today)