Won’t allow ‘outside interference’ in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs: China
China would always respect Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and not allow any “outside interference” in its internal affairs, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Tuesday as he met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Wang met the two leaders separately with both sides pledging to further promote relations between the two countries.
“As Sri Lanka’s strategic partner, China will continue to stand by Sri Lanka’s interests,” the visiting Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister was quoted as saying by Gotabaya’s office.
“China stands for the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. We will not allow any outside influences to interfere with matters that are essentially internal concerns of Sri Lanka,” Wang said.
The president told Wang that Sri Lanka was facing many political challenges and the only way to overcome them is to be economically strong.
“The economic independence will ensure political independence,” Gotabaya said.
The president said Sri Lanka is ready to enhance Sri Lanka-China ties, strengthen bilateral win-win cooperation in various fields and actively promote the joint development of the Belt and Road Initiative to build regional shipping and logistic hubs, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported from Colombo. The Sri Lankan government fully supports the development of major projects such as the Colombo Port City and the Hambantota Port, Mahinda said, noting that these projects will not only help develop the country’s economy and improve people’s livelihood, but also become a major driving force for the friendly cooperation between the two countries, according to the report.
In his response, Wang said China, as did in the past, would be Sri Lanka’s longtime partner in prosperity and growth.
He noted that China’s policy towards Colombo had always been consistent and would continue to be Sri Lanka’s reliable friend.
“China and Sri Lanka are strategic cooperative partners with sincere mutual assistance and ever-lasting friendship built upon a long tradition of friendly exchanges. Recent years has seen fruitful cooperation under the Belt and Road framework.
“China stands ready to work with Sri Lanka’s new administration to carry forward the traditional friendship, strengthen political mutual trust, dovetail development strategies and bring bilateral relations to new heights,” Wang added.
President Gotabaya’s postponed first visit to China will take place in February, his office said after the meeting.
In December 2017, Sri Lanka handed over the control of the southern sea port of Hambantota to China on a 99-year lease, triggering concern over Beijing’s efforts to expand influence in the region.
Soon after his election last year as President, Gotabaya said that giving away the Hambantota Port to China on a 99-year lease was a mistake by the previous government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena.
“The deal has to be renegotiated. Giving a small loan for investment is a different thing but giving a strategically important economic harbour is not acceptable. That we should have controlled,” the media had quoted him as saying.
In response to Gotabaya’s comments on the Hambantota Port, China had said that all the projects with Sri Lanka were developed with a “win-win spirit” and “equal-footed consultation” with the host nation.
Prime Minister Mahinda, who was known for taking pro-China stance during his previous tenure as the president, clarified to China’s official news agency that the President did not mean there is any problem about the sovereignty.
“What the president meant was that our government, unlike the previous one, has a principle of not privatising assets. If Sri Lanka and China have any problems, we can easily discuss and resolve them as friends,” he was quoted as saying by Xinhua.
Wang is the first top Chinese official to visit Sri Lanka after the election of Gotabaya.
His visit to Sri Lanka coincides with the visits of top Japanese and US officials.
Japanese State Minister for Regional Revitalisation Kozo Yamamoto met President Gotabaya and evinced his country’s interest in investing in the island nation.
Alice Wells, the US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia who is also visiting Sri Lanka, met Gotabaya and Mahinda on Tuesday.
“US values its relationship with #SriLanka and looks forward to strengthening ties by expanding cooperation on econ and trade, counter-terrorism, security, transitional justice and human rights - both of our nations will benefit,” she tweeted.