THE POHOTTUWA GOVERNMENT OF SRI LANKA Part 2 B2
Posted on October 31st, 2020

KAMALIKA PIERIS

China kept mum during the time of the general election of 2020. But soon after, China moved quickly to re-affirm friendly relations.

The first high-powered Chinese business delegation to Sri Lanka to arrive was a  15-member business delegation  from Mianyang,   to sign agreements with Sri Lanka’s Confederation of Micro, Small and Medium Industries (COSMI). They came in December 2019.

Two landmark agreements were signed. A Cooperation Framework Agreement between COSMI and China Mianyang Enterprise Union for Import and Export, and a Strategic Cooperation Agreement between COSMI and Sichuan Yiyang Xuanyu Trading Co. Ltd were signed. The visiting Chinese businessmen also took part in many one-to-one B2B ‘COSMI matchmaking sessions’ with Lankan firms. .

COSMI President said COSMI works for the revival of the industrial sector in Sri Lanka that now faces various setbacks including lack of new tech and international links. This is why we bring international businesses here and link them to our local SMEs for investment and cooperation.

COSMI said Mianyang is an important pivot city on the junction of the OBOR project. It is the most dynamic city on China’s OBOR belt. Mianyang is the only science and technological city approved by the Chinese government. It is also one of eight Chinese national ‘layout areas’ for systematic promotion of comprehensive innovation and a leading electronic and intelligent manufacturing hub with multiple research and tech centres, and is the second largest economy in Sichuan Province,”

There were other China- Sri Lanka discussions, too.   China-Sri Lanka Belt and Road Political Parties Joint Consultation Mechanism between the Communist Party of China (CPC) and main political parties of Sri Lanka has been established on June  2020. The first meeting of the mechanism, with the theme of Building the Belt and Road Initiative and Promoting Economy and People’s Livelihood, was  held via video link in  June.   United National Party, Sri Lanka Freedom Party, and People’s United Front of Sri Lanka  had attended.

Song Tao, Minister of the International Department of the CPC Central Committee, addressed the event. He  said China was ready to work with Sri Lankan political parties to implement the consensus reached by the two Heads of State, strengthen the exchange of experience in state governance, consolidate the political foundation and public support for China-Sri Lanka ties, promote bilateral cooperation in all areas and contribute to the high-quality Belt and Road cooperation. The meeting also approved a joint initiative of the political parties of China and Sri Lanka to support Belt and Road cooperation.

A high level Chinese delegation, from Beijing flew into Colombo, and met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in October 2020. The Chinese team were visiting Sri Lanka, UAE, Algeria and Serbia on invitation. Sri Lanka was their first destination. This was a very significant visit.

The Chinese delegation comprised seven members, led by senior Chinese leader and top foreign policy official Yang Jiechi.  He was Chinese Foreign Minister from 2007-2013 and China’s Ambassador to US from 2001 to 2005.  He is presently a member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party and the director of its Central Committee’s Foreign Affairs Commission, a  top policy-making body. He  holds a position equivalent to Vice Premier.

Also in the delegation were China International Development Cooperation Agency chairman Wang Xiaotao, Assistant Foreign Minister Deng Lee and the Foreign Ministry’s Asian Affairs Deputy Director General Chen Song.

The  leader of the delegation said that the present status of bilateral relations between China and Sri Lanka was highly satisfactory. Maintaining and promoting this friendship is a key priority of President Xi Jingping. China wanted  to maintain high-level exchanges and consolidate political mutual trust. Chinese President Xi Jinping considered further improvement of China-Sri Lanka relations a priority.

The delegation   recalled past history. China–Sri Lanka relations have stood the test of time, they said. What continued from the ancient spiritual ties since the visits of Chinese Buddhist monks centuries ago, received a big boost when the Rubber-Rice deal was signed in 1952, even before the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two newly emerged independent countries.

The Ceylon–China Trade Agreement of 1952 was undoubtedly the most useful trade agreement negotiated by Sri Lanka and one of the most successful and durable trade agreements in the world, having been in operation for 30 years , the delegation said.

The head of the delegation said that China will firmly stand with Sri Lanka to protect the country’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity at international fora including the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The delegation  said that China would continue to assist Sri Lanka ‘s development drive. China has identified a number of areas conducive to the development of multilateral cooperation with Sri Lanka in addition to completing large-scale projects already underway; these include agriculture, education, tourism, water supply, healthcare, medical supplies, modern technology, the Digital Economy, the Blue Economy, and labor training.”

We will support not from words but by action,” said Jiechi. China announced a US$ 90 million grant to Sri Lanka, for medical care, education and water supplies in Sri Lanka’s rural areas.

There was a discussion on rural development . China and Sri Lanka could jointly implement rural revitalization (RR) projects based on the successes achieved in underdeveloped provinces in China. NeoChina Research Centre could help develop a centralized ICT platform and a Control and Coordination Centre for Rural Revitalization.

The delegation wanted  China and Sri Lanka to restart discussions on a FTA.  There were discussion on  Colombo Port City and Hambantota Port, Yang asked that  the Port City law to be passed no later than November. The law is expected to declare the reclaimed land to be the country’s first service-oriented special economic zone (SEZ). It will address red tape and shortcomings in approval processes within a ring-fenced, controlled environment. The Hambantota Port was Sri Lanka’s, not China’s, idea, President Rajapaksa said. But China had offered to fund it. Hambantota Industrial Scheme will be speedily completed.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa thanked China for its support in combating the Corona virus, saying China’s strong support in various fields has helped Sri Lanka strengthen its capacity to resume work and production amid the pandemic. Sri Lanka will work with China to maintain the firm mutual support, and welcomes more Chinese companies to invest and do business, he said, while hoping for increased bilateral people-to-people exchanges in the future.

The 26-member higher-powered Chinese delegation, which arrived on Thursday night, was whisked away under a tight security escort. the VVIP Lounge was declared out of bounds to journalists and no photographs of the visiting delegation were allowed. The delegation, which arrived aboard a special flight BJN099 from Beijing at 7.40 pm, had undergone a PCR test prior to arriving in Sri Lanka.

According to officials at the Ministry of Foreign Relations in Colombo, a special travel bubble” set up for the Chinese delegation, which will confine its members to Colombo, and restrict their engagements to just two meetings with the Head of State and the Prime Minister, under the strict health protocol” prescribed by the Ministry of Health.They stayed at a restricted floor of a local hotel and followed all health guidelines and regulations by the Health Ministry during their 18-hour visit.

China followed up on its promises. The Chinese ambassador met State Minister of Money & Capital Markets and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal and the Governor of the Central Bank Professor W. D. Lakshman to discuss the financial instruments to be implemented  after the Yang Jiechi visit.

Sri Lanka will aggressively pursue the signing of the much talked about and long overdue Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China soon,   said Sri Lankan Ambassador designate to China  Palitha Kohona. Kohona said that the China Sri Lanka trade balance is strongly in favor of China with USD 5 billion imports and USD 30 million exports and local exporters are partly to be blamed for this. Sri Lanka tea is considered a high fashion drink in China especially among youngsters and local exporters have not successfully exploited this.

The Sri Lankan Government, Kohona said, will formulate a reliable legal framework for special economic zones in the Colombo Port City and the Hambantota Port. There will be  flagship cooperation projects between Sri Lanka and China within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, which would be attractive to investors from all over the world. . “What we need are investments and more investments. We need to create wealth. We need to create jobs. We need to create prosperity for our people,” Kohona said.

Sri Lankan exporters should particularly take advantage of the annual China International Import Expo set to open next month, November,  to boost exports,  said Kohona, “I would like to see a number of tea companies, rubber products companies, spice companies, coconut products companies, gem and jewelry producers, and other service providers, including Sri Lanka Tourism and Sri Lankan Airlines, make use of this opportunity to access the Chinese market, he said. ( Continued)

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