(Photo of Yang Jiechi, Director of China's Central Committee's Foreign Affairs Commission with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa)
During a meeting between senior Chinese diplomats and the Rajapaksa administration in Colombo on Friday, the Chinese diplomats pledged to strengthen economic ties with Sri Lanka and to defend the country at “international fora including United Nations Human Rights Council”, reports the Sri Lankan President’s Media Division.
This meeting follows condemnation of Sri Lanka by United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, for the intimidation of human rights activists, including those that had travelled to the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year. Guterres labelled Sri Lanka's actions as “absolutely unacceptable”.
The Chinese visit follows a diplomatic dispute with the US in which US Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz warned Sri Lanka against trade with China due to their lack of transparency. Chinese officials responded by alleging that the US was guilty of upholding a hypocritical double standard.
Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry commented on the visit stating that it was:
“The first-ever Chinese visit in the South Asian region since the global coronavirus epidemic, the visit is expected to strengthen cooperation between Sri Lanka and China, in the areas of combating the global pandemic and revival of economic relations”.
US officials are similarly set to visit Sri Lanka later this month.
China’s development project
China’s visit to Sri Lanka comes during a period of significant economic uncertainty marked by the decision by Moody, a credit rating agency, to downgrade Sri Lanka’s rating from a B2 to a CAA1.
The Hindu reports that:
“Chinese analysts have welcomed the return of the Rajapaksas to the helm, with PM Rajapaksa’s stint at President marking a rapid deepening in strategic and economic ties”.
In March, Sri Lanka and China signed a “facility agreement” for a $500 million loan, on Colombo’s request. The last month also marked the six-year anniversary of the Colombo Port City project, which was launched by Rajapaksa and President Xi Jinping in September 2014 as a flagship project in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The meeting on Friday aims to focus on strengthening economic cooperation and the ongoing Chinese-backed projects such as the $1.4 billion port city coming up on over 650 acres of reclaimed land by the seafront in Colombo.
Sri Lanka’s Treasury further announced a US$ 500m concessionary loan from China which is due to be repaid during a 10-year period with no restriction on usage of the loan. This comes alongside an agreed grant from China’s International Development agency for 16.5 billion rupees for livelihood development in the country.
According to the Sri Lankan President’s Media Division, the President pushed for a lower trading deficit with China, encouraging China to buy more Sri Lanka goods. The statement further claims he pushed for greater Chinese investment, visitors and for the establishment of a technology university in Sri Lanka with Chinese backing.
The Sunday Times notes that China pushed for the Port City law, which is expected to declare that the reclaimed land is the country’s first service-oriented special economic zone (SEZ).