Sri Lanka and China vowed on Wednesday to enhance pragmatic cooperation in all sectors between the two countries, including the military, China’s official agency Xinhua reported.
The pledge came after Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa met with visiting Chinese State Councilor and Minister of National Defense, Wei Fenghe,
Closely following the pragmatic cooperation in the military field between the two countries, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa hoped that “the two militaries will carry out closer exchanges so as to further lift the level of pragmatic cooptation.” The Sri Lankan President is also the Defense Minister of Sri Lanka.
In his meeting with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Wei noted the long-lasting friendship between the two militaries, and called on the two sides to further deepen cooperation and promote relations between the two militaries.
No bending to major powers outside the region
President Gotabaya said that Sri Lanka has prioritized developing relations with China and firmly supported China’s positions on issues concerning its core interests. The Lankan President added that his country has been pursuing an independent foreign policy and will never bend to pressure from major powers outside the region and never forge an alliance with any country.
Gotabaya thanked China for providing long-term and precious support to Sri Lanka and hoped to learn governing experience from the Communist Party of China on poverty alleviation and rural revitalization, among others.
Meeting with PM Mahinda Rajapaksa
In his meeting with Wei, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa noted that Wei and his delegation visited Sri Lanka at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is still not contained, demonstrating that China attaches great importance to developing the ties with Sri Lanka.
Hailing China for its achievements made in the pandemic prevention and control, economic development and poverty alleviation, the Prime Minister thanked China for providing unselfish help to his country.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa requested China to help Sri Lanka secure foreign investment to help it develop its economy and fight poverty.
Rajapaksa said “Despite the increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, our Government has decided not to pursue country-wide lockdowns due to the impact such lockdowns have on our economy and society. I’m sure you’ll agree that there is still a lot that needs to be done for post-pandemic economic recovery. One of our main priorities in this effort is to attract investments from around the world. I look forward your support in rebuilding investor confidence in Sri Lanka.”
Sri Lanka will always be a sincere friend to China and will firmly support China’s position on safeguarding its own core interests, the Prime Minister said.
For his part, Wei said that China and Sri Lanka enjoy a long history of friendship with deep bilateral relations.
The two countries are jointly working for the high-quality construction of the Belt and Road, Wei said, pointing out that they share a bright prospect of development.
The Chinese side appreciates Sri Lanka’s position on issues relating to China’s Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and will as always support Sri Lanka’s stance over issues relating to human rights and national reconciliation, Wei said.
Wei Slams Formation of Regional Cliques
Peaceful development and win-win cooperation is the global trend and the right way forward, Wei said, adding that certain major countries are keen to form cliques and factions and seek regional hegemony, which goes against the people’s shared aspiration and severely harms the interests of the regional countries.
China appreciates Sri Lanka’s independent and non-aligned policy and will make joint efforts with Sri Lanka to strengthen coordination and safeguard regional peace and tranquility, Wei added.
On Wednesday, Wei also held talks with Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Kamal Gunaratne and jointly launched a website of the Chinese National Defence University Alumni Association of Sri Lanka.
Military Relations with Bangladesh
On Tuesday, General Wei held talks with Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid in Dhaka. A statement from China’s official Xinhua news agency quoted him as calling for the two militaries to “increase high-level visits, deepen cooperation in equipment technology, broaden exchanges in specialized fields and forge closer military relations.”
“To jointly maintain regional peace and stability,” Wei said, “the two sides should make joint efforts against powers outside the region setting up military alliance in South Asia and practicing hegemonism.”
China Builds Rival Network in South Asia
On Tuesday a video conference of the Foreign Ministers of South Asian countries and China on the containment of the raging COVID-19 pandemic in the region. But India and its allies, Bhutan and the Maldives, were conspicuously absent, perhaps due to the participation of China. New Delhi envisages no role for China in South Asia.
Those who participated in the conference were the State Councilor Wang Yi (China), Dinesh Gunawardena (Si Lanka), Mirwais Nab (Afghanistan), A.K Abdul Memon (Bangladesh), Pradeep Kumar Gyawali (Nepal) and Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi (Pakistan).
Minister Wang Yi told the conference that, an invitation had also been extended to India. To get India in, Wang said: “China expresses the deep sympathies for the raging pandemic in India and extends its sincere condolences to the Indian people. China is willing to provide support and assistance to the Indian people at any time in accordance with the needs of India.”
According to the Chinese Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Qi Zhenhong, Foreign Minister Wang told the conference of his country’s decision to establish a China-South Asia Emergency Supplies Reserve, set up a China-South Asia Poverty Alleviation and Cooperative Development Center and hold a China-South Asia E-commerce Cooperation Forum on Poverty Alleviation in Rural Areas, and gained full support from all other five countries.
China’s Multi-pronged Entry into South Asia
China is making a multi-pronged entry into South Asia, traditionally considered to be India’s exclusive preserve. China has already penetrated the Sri Lanka economy through investments and credits. Sri Lanka owes China a little above US$ 5 billion.
Earlier in April, Sri Lanka inked an agreement with the State-run China Development Bank for a loan of US$ 500 million. A month or so earlier it signed a currency swap deal worth US$ 1.5 billion with China to ensure fiscal stability in the face of the unceasing pandemic. “The US$ 500 million loan was a part of the US$ 1 billion loan (signed before), out of which US$ 500 million was released last year,” the Sri Lankan embassy in China explained. Sunday Times added that another US$ 700 is being sought.
P. K. Balachandran is a senior Indian journalist working in Sri Lanka for local and international media and has been writing on South Asian issues for the past 21 years.