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US Secretary of State to visit Sri Lanka amidst growing tension with China

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary, Jayanath Colombage, has reported that US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, will be visiting Sri Lanka following a meeting between President Rajapaksa and senior Chinese diplomats.

Pompeo is expected to arrive on 27 October and, the Sunday Times reports, that he will be “the highest-level US government official of cabinet rank to visit the country since one of his predecessors, John Kerry, visited Sri Lanka in 2015”.

This meeting follows escalating tensions between the US and China over Sri Lanka’s trading relationship. 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.

Read more: China strikes back against ‘despicable’ US interference in Sri-Lanka China relations

During the meeting between Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Yang Jiechi, Director of China's Central Committee's Foreign Affairs Commission, the Chinese diplomat pledged to defend the country at “international fora including United Nations Human Rights Council”.

The Chinse further granted Sri Lanka a concessionary loan of US$ 500m which is to be repaid across 10 years with no restrictions on the loan usage as well as an agreed grant from China’s International Development agency for 16.5 billion rupees for livelihood development in the country.

Read more: China pledges to protect Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council

Responding to questions on whether any security or defence deals would be signed Colomboage replied;

“Nothing was discussed like that, other than to enhance cooperation in every field,”

In February of this year, the US State Department placed a travel ban on the head of Sri Lanka’s army, Shavendra Silva, along with his immediate family due to credible accusations of war crimes. In particular, the US highlighted reports of “extrajudicial killings, by the 58th Division of the Sri Lanka Army [which Silva led] during the final phase of Sri Lanka’s Civil War in 2009”.

Commenting on the matter Pompeo said:

“His designation underscores the importance we place on human rights in Sri Lanka and globally, our concern over impunity for human rights violations and abuses, as well as our support for promoting accountability for those who engage in such acts.  We urge the Sri Lankan government to promote human rights, hold accountable individuals responsible for war crimes and human rights violations, advance security sector reform, and uphold its other commitments to pursue justice and reconciliation.”

The Sunday Times further reports that Pompeo will likely discuss the “stalled negotiations on the US$ 480 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant to Sri Lanka” during his visit. However, they further note that it is not clear “if the proposed SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) and the existing ACSA (Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement) would also be on the agenda”.

Read more from the Sunday Times.

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