China on Tuesday played down the importance of Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s ongoing India visit, saying Beijing was happy to see the evolving relationship between New Delhi and Colombo.
India was Sirisena’s first visit abroad after taking over as President, and to many South Asia watchers, it signified a recalibration of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy, which was seen to China-focussed during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s long tenure.
But if Beijing is wary of the change, it expectedly did not show it.
“We are happy to see the close and friendly development of India Sri Lanka relations. We believe the sound relations among the three countries (India, Sri Lanka and China) are conducive to the three countries and to the whole region. Therefore, we are happy to see the development relations between Sri Lanka and India,” foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, said at the regular press briefing on Tuesday when asked to comment on Sirisena’s visit.
Hua said China was keen to develop strategic partnerships with both India and Sri Lanka.
“Sri Lanka and India are friendly and important neighbours to China. We want to develop strategic cooperative partnership with India for peace and prosperity and we also want to develop strategic cooperative partnership with Sri Lanka, featuring since interaction and long-lasting friendship,” Hua said.
China is looking forward and paying “great attention” to the upcoming visit of Lankan foreign minister, Mangala Samaraweera, later this month, Hua added.
The Lankan minister’s visit is expected to be a preparatory one in the run-up to the Sirisena’s China visit in late March.
Samaraweera is likely to meet China’s top leadership including President Xi Jinping besides holding talks with counterpart, Wang Yi.
“Sri Lanka is a friendly neighbour to China for a long time. The bilateral relations are founded on solid political, economic and social basis. Since the new government of Sri Lanka took office the two countries have maintained close contacts and communication at high-levels,” Hua said, commenting about the visit..
“Through this visit we hope to exchange in-depth views on the future development of bilateral relation in the new era, map out high level mutual visits and cooperation in various fields and further advance the strategic cooperative partnership,” Hua said.
She added that the visit of assistant foreign minister, Liu Jianchao’s visit to Sri Lanka earlier this month as a special envoy was a marker of the importance that China attaches to its relationship with the island nation.