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No ‘third party’ should interfere in China’s Sri Lanka ties: Wang Yi

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Chinese Foreign Minister proposes a forum for Indian Ocean island nations ‘to promote common development’

No “third party” should interfere in China-Sri Lanka ties, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said, during his recent 24-hour visit to Colombo, while also proposing a forum for Indian Ocean island nations.

Mr. Wang, who met the Sri Lankan leadership, spoke of the “friendly relationship” that “benefits the development of both countries and serves the fundamental interest” of both peoples, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday. “It does not target any third party and should not be interfered with by any third party. The all-round cooperation and strategic mutual trust between the two countries have injected positive energy into regional peace and stability,” according to the readout from Beijing.

In December 2021, the Colombo-based Chinese Embassy tweeted about a Chinese company shifting its solar energy project from northern Sri Lanka to the Maldives, in the wake of “security concerns from a third party”. While the Embassy did not name the party, it was clearly alluding to India that objected to the Chinese project in three islands off Jaffna peninsula.

Mr. Wang was on a brief official visit as part of a five-nation tour in the New Year to launch celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the historic Rubber-Rice Pact and the 65th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations. His visit came at a time when Sri Lanka is battling a severe economic crisis of a persisting dollar crunch, soaring living costs and a shortage of essentials in the import-reliant island nation. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa urged China to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt and help the country cope with the economic strain.

According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Mr. Wang said the two sides should make good use of “the two engines”, referring to the $1.4-billion China-backed Colombo Port City in Colombo and the Hambantota Port in the island’s Southern Province. He urged Sri Lanka to “tap the opportunities” of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and China’s “vast market” and restart talks on a free-trade agreement “to send more positive signals to the world and contribute to Sri Lanka’s economic recovery and development”, the Ministry’s statement on his meeting with Mr. Gotabaya said.

The resident Chinese envoy also conveyed the same to a select group of Sri Lankan journalists following the visit, though official statements from the Sri Lankan side made no mention of either “third party” interference or resuming FTA talks. During Mr. Wang’s visit, China had agreed to extend yuan 800 million for partnerships in the health sector and technical cooperation besides supporting construction of low-cost housing in Colombo.

Another aspect of Mr. Wang’s bilateral discussions, not captured in local statements or media, was his proposal for a “forum on the development of Indian Ocean island countries” to build consensus and synergy and promote common development.

Mr. Wang, said the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told the Sri Lankan leadership: “During my visit to several Indian Ocean island countries this time, I feel that all island countries share similar experiences and common needs, with similar natural endowment and development goals, and have favourable conditions and full potential for strengthening mutually beneficial cooperation,” while proposing the forum that sounded similar to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) initiative.

New Delhi would watch any regional forum with interest, amid its own efforts. Last year, a Secretariat for Trilateral National Security Advisers (NSA) on Maritime Security Cooperation among India, Maldives and Sri Lanka was set up in Colombo.



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