Stalled SL-China FTA talks to be revived: Govt.

Saturday, 10 October 2020 00:14 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in discussion with former Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi during the latter’s visit to the Presidential Secretariat yesterday 

  • SL and China pledge to deepen relations during high level meeting in Colombo 
  • President says wants to bring Chinese-like development to SL 
  • Wants trade deficit with China reduced, calls for China to encourage local exports 
  • Investment in H’tota zone and Port City to be expedited, engagement of many other sectors also discussed 
  • China pledges to assist in implementing President’s election manifesto 
  • Ex-Chinese FM invites Rajapaksa to visit China at earliest opportunity 

Sri Lanka and China pledged to deepen their ties yesterday with plans to recommence negotiations on a stalled Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and boost investment to the Hambantota investment zone as well as have more engagement in the areas of agriculture, education, tourism, healthcare, and technology in the coming years. 

The plans were discussed during a top-level meeting between President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and former Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi who led a delegation that paid a quick two-day visit to Sri Lanka, the President’s Media Division (PMD) said yesterday. 

The delegation also met with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa separately. They were the only two meetings scheduled for the delegation that undertook the visit in a travel bubble. 

The present status of bilateral relations between China and Sri Lanka is highly satisfactory, the PMD statement added. 

Maintaining and promoting this friendship is a key priority of President Xi Jingping, the head of the delegation said. He added that China will firmly stand with Sri Lanka to protect the country’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity at international fora, including United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

The seven-member delegation led by Yang Jiechi, Politburo member of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee, called on President Rajapaksa at the Presidential Secretariat last morning.

Holding several high-level positions at China’s Foreign Ministry, Jiechi served as Chinese Ambassador to the United States of America from 2001-2005 and Foreign Minister of China from 2007-2013. His current position in the Chinese administrations is equivalent to Vice Premier. 

Extending President Xi’s congratulations to President Rajapaksa over his landslide victory at the recent election, Yang recalled that he visited Sri Lanka 35 years ago as an interpreter assisting a visiting Chinese delegation. He noted that Sri Lanka was the first country in his four-nation tour of Asia, adding that the President of China gives high priority to the enhancement of bilateral relations with Sri Lanka.

President Rajapaksa commenced the discussion by expressing satisfaction over the current state of Sino-Sri Lanka relations and said China has been a long-standing friend who supported Sri Lanka irrespective of the government in power. He recalled that China extensively supported Sri Lanka to defeat terrorism.

Bilateral relations reached a higher level following the end of the armed conflict. He especially recalled the contributions made by China to develop Sri Lanka’s infrastructure facilities.

“China had contributed to a number of large-scale infrastructure development projects. The Hambantota Port, the Port City project, and the Southern Expressway are some of them. Constructing a port in Hambantota was Sri Lanka’s idea, not China’s. We were convinced that it would be a project with a vast potential for generating income and employment opportunities. China offered to fund it. Many geo-political analysis interprets this project as ‘debt trap’ set up by China to gain control over Sri Lankan affairs. I want to prove that it is not the case and that this large-scale project will help improve the living standards of the people. Assist us in this endeavour,” President told the Chinese delegation. 

Rajapaksa also said that he had toured China 13 times prior to the assumption of the Presidency and said he had seen first-hand the development progress that China had achieved. “I have seen massive development, especially in rural areas. My target is to bring about similar development, especially to rural areas in Sri Lanka and to raise the living conditions of the people in this country, especially that of the poor. I look forward to seeing visible progress in the Port City project over the next four years,” the President stressed.

President Rajapaksa pointed out that Sri Lanka’s trade deficit with China is high and called on the leader of the delegation to increase the volume of goods purchased from Sri Lanka.

“Sri Lanka has a strong private sector. They manufacture various products. Open the Chinese market for these items. Encourage Chinese investors to invest in Sri Lanka. Promote Chinese people to visit Sri Lanka. If China can participate in the Sri Lanka’s tea auctions, it will be a major boost to economic stability,” President remarked.

Explaining the limited tertiary education opportunities available to Sri Lankan youth who pass the Advanced Level exam, the President said establishing a technology university for them will be an area where China can invest in Sri Lanka.

Yang responded that China’s assistance will not be just lip service but concrete action to achieve the development goals contained in the ‘Saubhagyaye Dekma’ policy statement.

China has identified several areas conducive for the development of bilateral relations with Sri Lanka, in addition to completing large-scale projects already underway, including agriculture, education, tourism, water supply, healthcare, medical supplies, modern technology, digital economy, blue economy and labour training. Plans are afoot to recommence discussions on a China-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and to complete the Hambantota Industrial Scheme expeditiously, the PMD statement said. 

“We are eagerly waiting for President Rajapaksa to undertake an official visit to China, once the COVID-19 pandemic is successfully contained globally,” Yang was quoted as saying in the statement.

China International Development Cooperation Agency Chairman Wang Xiaotao, Assistant Foreign Minister of China Deng Lee, Chinese Embassy Chargé d'affaires Hu Wei, Chen Song, Department of Asian Affairs at the Chinese Foreign Ministry Deputy Director Chen Song, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardene, Secretary to the President Dr. P. B. Jayasundera, Principal Advisor to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage and Sri Lanka’s Ambassador Designate to China Dr. Palitha Kohona were also present at the discussion.