Imran Khan invites Sri Lanka to use BRI and CPEC to reach out to Central Asia
By P. K. Balachandran
COLOMBO – Visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday (23) invited Sri Lanka to participate in the (China-sponsored) Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) because these are connectivity projects which are necessary for the enhancement of trade and investment which, in turn, are needed for economic growth.
Khan, who arrived in Colombo on a two-day State visit on Tuesday, told the media at the Temple Trees office of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa after one on one talks, Sri Lankan products would be able to reach Central Asian markets though CPEC which runs from the Northern Karakoram range to the Arabian Sea in the South.
According to a media statement from the Pakistan High Commission in Colombo, Khan had had extensive consultations with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa, with a one-on-one meeting followed by delegation-level talks between the two sides.
The two leaders acknowledged the immense opportunities and vast potential for mutually beneficial collaboration in the areas of trade and investment, IT and human resource development, agriculture and science and technology, security and defence, culture and tourism.
Drawing attention to the rich Buddhist heritage of Pakistan and the existence of great potential for religious tourism, it was agreed to enhance mutual collaboration through sharing expertise in the hospitality industry, training and capacity-building.
Khan also invited Buddhists from Sri Lanka to visit ancient Buddhist sites in Gandhara (near Islamabad in the Pakhtunkhwa area). Noting that Pakistan had recently discovered a 40ft sleeping Buddha, he extended a special invitation to Mahinda Rajapaksa to come over and see it. Pakistan is planning a Buddhist Trail for Buddhist pilgrims from across the world, he added.
Both sides expressed satisfaction at the close cooperation between the two countries at multilateral fora and resolved to further deepen strategic communication and coordination at all levels. It was also agreed to keep the momentum of high-level exchanges between the two countries.
The two sides noted that both Pakistan and Sri Lanka have done relatively well in handling the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. In the international context, the importance of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ‘Global Initiative on Debt Relief’ for developing countries to mitigate the adverse socio-economic impacts of the pandemic was highlighted.
Khan pointed out that though both the rich and the poor countries have suffered immensely from the COVID-19 pandemic, the poorer countries and the poor in the rich countries have suffered the most. Therefore, debt relief and stimulus packages are key for survival.
However, the poorer countries are disadvantaged because of lack of funds. He pointed out that while Pakistan could spend only US$ 8 billion on a stimulus package the US spent US$ 3000 billion.
Commenting on Pakistan’s commitment to peace and stability in the South Asian region, Khan underlined the imperative of constructive engagement by all sides to promote a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.
He also highlighted Pakistan’s shifting focus from geo-strategic to geo-economics, emphasizing the three pillars of Pakistan’s economic security vision – peace, development partnerships, and connectivity.
Khan also emphasized the importance of resolving disputes through dialogue and promoting the vision of peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia and beyond.
The two sides reiterated their commitment to the principles and objectives of the SAARC Charter and agreed on the importance of taking forward the SAARC process for regional cooperation.
Khan also extended a cordial invitation to Prime Minister Rajapaksa to visit Pakistan at the earliest convenience.
The two leaders witnessed the signing ceremony of several MoUs on cooperation in the fields of tourism, investment, education, and technology.
The meeting was followed by a Banquet hosted by Mahinda Rajapaksa in honour of Khan and his delegation.