Colombo, December 3 (newsin.asia): The proposed visit of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to China is to be re-scheduled at the request of the Chinese government, informed sources said.
Gotabaya was to visit China in the third week of January, but this has been “postponed indefinitely”, the sources said. The Chinese had given no reasons for seeking a re-scheduling, the sources added.
The Lankan government agreed to it because it will also be busy with the visit of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, expected here on January 14. Lavrov’s visit, undertaken at his initiative, is considered important because Sri Lankan needs Russia’ s help at the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva scheduled to be held in February-March.
Sri Lanka is planning to seek several changes in the 2015 resolution on it which it had co-sponsored. The Gotabaya government feels that Sri Lanka cannot abide by certain stipulations in the resolution, given constitutional and political constraints.
Sri Lanka and Russia are also interested in forging closer trade, economic ties.
According to sources, President Gotabaya’s Chinese visit could take place either before the week-long Chinese Spring Festival which begins on January 23, or immediately after that. It is expected to be a one-day working visit.
While in Beijing, President Gotabaya is expected to clear the air about his recent remarks on the Hambantota port. In his meetings with the foreign media he had alluded to some deficiencies in the 2017 agreement on the Hambantota port in the area of security. He wanted the Lankan navy to have full control over the entry and exit of ships in the harbor. The President told Colombo-based foreign correspondents that he would want to add two or three clauses to the 2017 agreement between the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and its Chinese joint venture partner CMPort.
Apart from this, the Sri Lankan navy’s Southern Command had been shifted from port Galle to Hambantota port, following the 2017 agreement, but facilities for a command headquarters are yet to be created at the Hambantota port, for which the cooperation of the Chinese company CMPort is necessary, sources said.
President Gotabaya would also discuss Chinese help to develop Hambantota port’s hinterland, where a total of 15,000 acres has been earmarked for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). Out of the 15, 000 acres, approximately 1235 acres will be situated in Hambantota to build factories, LNG plants and refineries while the rest will be in Monaragala, Embilipitiya and Matara.
The Lankan President would like Chinese public and private sector companies to kick-start the development of the SEZ which will then encourage companies from other countries to invest.
President Gotabaya is very keen on Chinese help for infrastructure development including roads and railways as China has been generous with funding and has also shown a capacity to finish the projects it undertakes on time.
Following Gotabaya’s win in the November 16, 2019 Presidential election, China had extended an invitation to visit Beijing. Chinese Ambassador Cheng Xueyuan said that the Lankan President could visit China at “a mutually convenient and mature time.”
But the Lankan President’s remark to an Indian defense magazine Bharat Shakti that he would renegotiate the 99-year lease of the Hambantota port to China upset the diplomatic apple cart.
This led to Beijing’s sending to Colombo, post haste, a high level Chinese delegation headed by a former Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Wu Jianghao, as the representative of Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Wu called on Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa also.
Following the meetings with the Rajapaksas, the Chinese embassy issued a statement saying that both parties agreed to further strengthen the “robust political trust between” between the two countries.
Sri Lanka and China agreed to enhance their practical cooperation and “speed up the implementation of the big economic projects, including the Colombo Port City and the Hambantota Port, according to existing consensus and, on that basis, draw up the new blueprint for future cooperation,” the statement added.
Later, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa told the Chinese news agency Xinhua that President Gotabaya had been “quoted out of context” on Hambantota and that Sri Lanka and China had the ability to iron out any issues that might arise between them.
However, the 2017 agreement was still a bee in President Gotabaya’s bonnet. He told Colombo-based foreign correspondents that while he has no intention of re-negotiating the commercial aspects of the 2017 pact, he would like some security issues to be sorted out.
He said that he had raised the security issue with the Chinese Special Envoy Wu Jianghao and the later appreciated his point of view. A Chinese statement made it clear that the security system in Hambantota port is the same as the one in the island nation’s other ports.
(The featured image at the top shows President Gotabaya Rajapaksa)