Wary India looks on as Chinese president talks of strategic cooperation with Sri Lanka

Chinese President Xi Jinping

China is willing to work with Sri Lanka for better development of bilateral “strategic cooperative partnership”, President Xi Jinping said on Sunday, in statement that’s expected to be closely tracked by India as Beijing and Colombo deepen ties.

In a message addressed to Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on the occasion of the island nation’s 70th anniversary of independence, Xi said he pays “high attention” to the development of bilateral ties.

“I pay high attention to the development of China-Sri Lanka relations, and I am willing to make concerted efforts with President Sirisena to push the China-Sri Lanka strategic cooperative partnership of sincere mutual assistance and long-standing friendship to keep achieving greater development in the better interest of the two countries and the two peoples,” the official news agency, Xinhua, quoted Xi as saying in the message.

Recalling the “traditional friendship and mutual assistance between China and Sri Lanka,” Xi said the two countries “have conducted pragmatic cooperation within the framework of joint construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, achieving fruitful results.”

Proposed by China in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa based on ancient land and maritime trade routes.

India has so far not joined the BRI as it has – besides problems with lack of transparency – sovereignty concerns as the initiative’s flagship project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

But New Delhi will also be concerned as its neighbours, including Sri Lanka, join the BRI and welcome Chinese projects on their territories.

China has emerged as the largest foreign direct investment contributor to Sri Lanka in 2017, followed by India and Singapore.

Beijing has already invested billions in Sri Lanka and is building ports, power stations, roads and highways, railways and even office space.

the Hambantota Port is the second port project between Sri Lanka and China, the Xinhua report said.

“The Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT), which has proven to be one of the fastest growing terminals in the world, has recorded 2.35 million TEU containers since it came into service in 2014,” it said.

China has invested over $ 8 billion in Sri Lanka over the years for various projects, including Hambantota port which it acquired on 99 years lease as a debt swap. It is also building the Colombo port city project, where Sri Lanka plans to establish an international financial city.

China is in the process of firming up its presence in the Indian Ocean with a string of ports which included Hambantota and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

(Hindustan Times)