Sri Lanka seeks improved relations with China

President Sirisena’s visit to Beijing reaffirms longstanding ties with the country just weeks after trip to rival India.

Maithripala Sirisena wants to balance Sri Lanka's China ties against those with India [EPA]
Maithripala Sirisena wants to balance Sri Lanka's China ties against those with India [EPA]

Sri Lanka’s new president has held talks with his Chinese counterpart in a push to recalibrate his predecessor’s strongly pro-China policies.

Maithripala Sirisena and Xi Jinping reaffirmed on Thursday the longstanding ties between their countries in a meeting in the Chinese capital, Beijing.

The talks between the two leaders kicked off Sirisena’s first visit to the China since taking office in January and follow his trip to neighbour and Chinese rival India in February.

In opening remarks, Xi said China considers Sri Lanka a strategic partner and wants to “again promote and elevate the China-Sri Lanka relationship to fulfil an important purpose’.’

“China has always placed Sri Lanka in an important diplomatic position in region,” Xi said.

The two also discussed a $1.5bn China-funded port city project Colombo, Sri Lanka’s commercial capital, which Sirisena’s government suspended pending scrutiny of environment impacts and alleged corruption, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao told reporters after the meeting.

Both sides said they continued to back the project, but any specific changes to it would have to be worked out by the companies involved, Liu was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.

Close ties with former leader

China enjoyed close ties with Mahinda Rajapaksa, the former Sri Lankan president, under whom a raft of Chinese-backed projects sailed through the approval process with few questions. 

However, Sirisena’s administration has ordered all China-funded projects to be reviewed.

Beijing was a trusted supplier of weapons in Sri Lanka’s crushing of ethnic Tamil separatists and backed the country against allegations at the UN on claims of human rights abuses in the civil war. 

In his visit last year, Xi won support from Sri Lanka and neighbouring Maldives for a new maritime “Silk Road,” seen as a way of encircling India and controlling port access along sea lanes linking the energy-rich Gulf and economic centres in eastern China. 

In contrast, Sirisena wants to balance Sri Lanka’s China ties against those with India and chose New Delhi for his first official visit.

This month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first Indian leader to visit Sri Lanka in 28 years.

Source: AP


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