Jiang Zemin.
Posted on December 3rd, 2022

Sugath Kulatunga

In early 1980 the GCEC was getting many visitors to learn about the experience of the new investment promotion zone. One of those visitors was a Chinese official who at that time was vice-chairman and concurrently secretary-general of the State Administration Commission on Import and Export Affairs and the State Administration Commission on Foreign Investment. At that time the GCEC had so many visitors, the Chinese official was not given any special treatment. After the usual official briefings, the visitor was passed on to the then Export Promotion Secretariat (EPS), which happened to be the nucleus of the GCEC until they were fully staffed. EPS was willing to accommodate any foreign official in a relevant field and learn from them. I happen to be the Director General of the then EPS and saw the potential benefit of a closer dialogue with the Chinese official. He was also interested in visiting Kandy and the Dalada Maligawa which I readily arranged.

As he was a very senior official I myself accompanied him to Kandy and back. We had a long and friendly discussion. He was interested in the history, the economy and development programs of the country. We talked freely about many topics on China including the long march, the Cultural Revolution and the contemporary development strategies in China. He mentioned about run of the river hydroelectricity projects which was new to me. (Still not exploited in Sri Lanka) Although he asked many probing questions ,he was well briefed on the comparative advantages of Sri Lanka. I of course gave him a few reasons why we have been slow in economic development. Almost at the end of the journey he thanked me and said, “You have a literate society, a strategic location, a rich ocean around you, well established administration and many other advantages which many countries do not have. He paused for a few seconds and more or less shouted at me the words ‘What then is your problem’?.

Very much later it was revealed that China had learned much from our experience in free trade zones when they went for a massive exercise in establishing free trade zones in which this Chinese official had played a key role. He was Jiang Zemin president of China from 1989 to 2003‚ he took the helm of the world’s largest country in the wake of the Tiananmen Square student uprising. (When he came to power, China was a virtual pariah state. By the time he had handed the presidency over to Hu Jintao, it had become the fastest-growing economy in the world) BBC.

I am happy that I had a rare privilege of sharing the company of a future President of China for almost one whole day. I feel sad about his demise.

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