Sri Lanka’s new Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said on Saturday in Beijing that the new government in Colombo will not allow a repeat of last year’s visits by a Chinese submarine that had raised concerns in India.
Asked following his two-day visit to Beijing if the new Colombo government would, as ousted President Mahinda Rajapaksa had done, allow Chinese submarines access to Sri Lankan ports, Samaraweera said, “I really don’t know under which sort of circumstances that led to some submarines.. to the port of Colombo on the very day the Japanese Prime Minister was visiting Sri Lanka. But we will ensure that such incidents, from whatever quarter, do not happen during our tenure.”
Samaraweera held talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Foreign Minister Wang Yi during his visit.
The focus of his talks was to lay the groundwork for new Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena visit to China starting March 26 – his second overseas tour following his February visit to India.
Samaraweera said the new government would bring Sri Lanka’s foreign policy “back to the centre” and make it more balanced, but rejected suggestions that this meant diluting the close ties Rajapaksa built with China.
“Back to the centre I don’t think has any bearing on Sri Lanka China relations. It will remain as they were, and we will try to strengthen relations with China further in terms of rest of the world”.
On Saturday, Sri Lanka discussed with China’s Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng the Chinese government’s new Maritime Silk Road initiative. Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China was interested in port development, maritime cooperation and search and rescue cooperation with Sri Lanka.
Samaraweera said Sri Lanka was waiting for the Silk Road plan’s blueprint to be released by China, but was open to working with China on the project.
“In the context of the 21st century maritime road we are looking at it, discussing about it and especially in areas which are economically beneficial to Sri Lanka we will certainly cooperate with the concept.”
China emerged as Sri Lanka’s biggest source of financial aid during the Rajapaksa years. Chinese loans have amounted to as much as $ 5 billion.
Samaraweera acknowledged there were concerns about the interest rate payments owed to China, which emerged as an election issue.
“We do have some concerns. In fact, the Minister of Finance and senior officials of the Finance Ministry are studying this matter at the moment and I believe there will be a very high level delegation from the Ministry of Finance and policy planning who will come to China immediately after the President’s visit to discuss these loans”.
The new government is also reviewing a $ 1.5 billion Colombo Port City project undertaken by a Chinese firm on account of environmental concerns.
Samaraweera assured China that the report of the review would first be shared with China which would be consulted before any final decisions were made. (India Today)