By Sugeeswara Senadhira/Daily News
Colombo, October 26: The benefits of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy of neutrality was evident during the recent challenges faced on several fronts.
Although it was quite evident during the 30 years of conflict as many countries – Pakistan, China, Russia, United States, Israel and India – came to assist at different times, the success of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy became most prominent during the last three years of difficulties due to the pandemic and economic downturn.
In addition to government-to-government development assistance as well as investments, Sri Lanka is also receiving generous grants and development cooperation and investments in the second tier such as from the state governments of India and provincial governments of China.
Last week a high-level delegation headed by the Yunnan Provincial Federation of Industry & Commerce Chairman Gao Feng, who is also CPPCC Vice Chairman, held a discussion with Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena on the follow-up plans on trade and investment proposals emanated during the Prime Minister’s visit to Yunnan two months ago.
During the meeting, the high-level delegation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry and leading entrepreneurs of Yunnan held a detailed discussion on how to enhance trade and investment between Yunnan and Sri Lanka.
Yunnan’s keenness to have closer relations became evident from the visit of the Chamber head Gao Feng who, as CPPCC Vice Chairman, is responsible for all economic and trade and investment affairs concerning Yunnan.
During the discussions, trade, tourism, agriculture, technology and investments in solar and wind power were identified as potential areas for collaboration.
The Prime Minister said that the visit of the delegation would be useful to take forward the agreements reached during his visit to Yunnan in August 2023.
The Prime Minister visited the Yunnan Academy of Agriculture Sciences, Kunming International Flower Trade Centre and Auction, Yunnan Solar Power Station, Gushen Village Experimental Paddy Field, Errhai Ecological Corridor, Xiaguan Tuocha Tea Experimental Center and Three- Pagoda Chongsheng Temple in Dali in Yunnan Province. It was decided to cooperate in tea, paddy, and other crops, gem and jewellery and tourism.
Recently, Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda announced that China pledged Rs.1500 million for the benefit of the fisheries sector in the North. This grant was given to mark the tenth anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in which President Ranil Wickremesinghe was one of the heads of state to attend.
Minister Devananda said LKR 500 million will be for the construction of housing for fishermen and another LKR 500 million for the provision of fishing gear such as nets. The remaining LKR 500 million is meant for the provision of dry rations to the fisher families.
Another Chinese province helping Sri Lanka in the rural revitalization programme is Chongqing Province. In July this year Dr Yuan Jiajun, top official of the Chinese Communist Party in Chongqing, who is also a CPC Politbureau member, said that China would extend fullest cooperation by encouraging, large-scale investments in industrial and agricultural spheres.
He also agreed to provide experts on hybrid rice varieties and other food crops to Sri Lanka of which expertise has been developed by Chongqing-rich researchers.
“You have vast flat lands all over the country suitable for rice and other crops and we will extend assistance to increase harvest by several folds,” he said during his meeting with Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.
The Prime Minister, pointing out that China is a great friend of Sri Lanka, thanked the Chinese side for providing strong support for the country’s economic and social development over the years.
The Prime Minister requested the delegation to share Chongqing’s experience of successfully alleviating poverty and ensuring food security by using hybrid rice and other food crops to increase production by several times.
Dr Yuan Jiajun assured every possible assistance to ensure speedy progress in poverty alleviation and food security. He said Chongqing could help Sri Lanka double its rice production by introducing hybrid rice varieties developed by China.
In addition to hybrid rice, Chongqing has also developed rice varieties that can be grown in dry zones with water shortages and also in saline lands near the seacoast, he said.
Earlier this week, Vice President of China Foundation for Rural Development Liu Wenkui offered his Foundation’s assistance to Sri Lanka’s poverty alleviation programme. He gave this assurance when he called on Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.
The Prime Minister said China’s success in eradicating poverty, rural uplift and ensuring food security has been exemplary.
“I thank China for magnanimous contributions to the efforts of my country as well as other developing nations towards achieving food security,” he said.
He expressed appreciation for President Xi Jinping’s offer of continuous support to Sri Lanka when President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visited Beijing last week.
Mr Liu Wenkui said his Foundation has expertise in rural development and it could assist Sri Lanka in its drive to increase rural productivity for the multiple goals of self-sufficiency, uplift of rural low-income families and increase in exports.
President Wickremesinghe, during his visit to Beijing, reaffirmed Sri Lanka’s commitment to the One-China principle. He reiterated that Sri Lanka supports the efforts by the Chinese government to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and opposes any form of “Taiwan independence”.
He hailed China for firmly supporting Sri Lanka in upholding its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and supporting the independent choice of development path that suits its national conditions.
The President emphasized that Sri Lanka, as an island nation, has the potential to attain a higher standing in the international arena by adopting a nonaligned foreign policy. The close development partnership with China must be viewed in terms of neutrality which aims to avoid reliance on or alignment with any regional power or a global power bloc.