President asks China to reduce trade deficit, encourage investment in Sri Lanka
China pledges continuous development cooperation and possible FTA
COLOMBO – President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday (9) asked China to increase the volume of goods purchased from Sri Lanka to reduce the large trade deficit, and encourage Chinese businessmen to invest in Sri Lanka. During a meeting with a delegation led by China’s former Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, he also called for more Chinese people to visit Sri Lanka.
The high powered delegation arrived in Sri Lanka on Thursday (8) night, on a brief two-day visit confined to Colombo with engagements restricted to just two meetings with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, under strict health protocol prescribed by the Ministry of Health. Sri Lanka is the first country in the delegation’s four-nation tour of Asia.
A statement from the President’s Media Division said Jiechi, a 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, whose current position in the Chinese administrations is equivalent to vice premier level, had assured President Rajapaksa of China’s continued assistance to Sri Lanka for the success of the country’s development drive, noting that the present status of bilateral relations between the two countries was highly satisfactory. “Maintaining and promoting this friendship is a key priority of President Xi Jingping,” he had said.
Jiechi had also assured China would firmly stand with Sri Lanka to protect the country’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity at international fora including United Nations Human Rights Council.
Extending President Xi’s congratulations to President Rajapaksa over landslide victories at recent elections, Jiechi had recalled that he visited Sri Lanka 35 years ago as an interpreter assisting a visiting Chinese delegation.
President Rajapaksa had expressed satisfaction over the current state of Sino-Sri Lanka relations and noted China has been a long-standing friend who supported Sri Lanka irrespective of the government in power.
He had acknowledged that China had extensively supported Sri Lanka to defeat terrorism, and that bilateral relations reached a higher level following the end of the armed conflict. Rajapaksa had especially recalled the contribution of China for the development of country’s infrastructure facilities, especially the large-scale projects including the Hambantota Port, the Port City project and Southern Expressway.
Noting that the constructing a port in Hambantota was an idea of Sri Lanka and not China’s, he had said, “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 endevour,” President had told the Chinese delegation, according to the statement.
President had said he had toured China 13 times prior to the assumption of presidency, had seen first-hand the development progress China had achieved, especially in rural areas and told the delegation, his target was to bring about similar development especially in rural areas in Sri Lanka and to raise the living conditions of the people in this country. In this context he had said, “I look forward to seeing a visible progress in the Port City project over the next four years.”
President Rajapaksa had also pointed out that Sri Lanka’s trade deficit with China was high and called on the leader of the delegation to increase the volume of goods purchased from Sri Lanka to bring it down.
“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 auction, it will be a major boost to economic stability”, President had said.
Explaining the limited tertiary educational opportunities available to Sri Lanka youth who pass GCE Advanced Level, he had also said establishing a University of Technology for them would be an area where China could invest in Sri Lanka.
Jiechi had assured that China’s assistance will not be just lip service but concrete action to achieve the development goals contained in ‘Saubhagyaye Dekma’ policy statement, adding that China had identified several areas conducive for the development of bilateral relations with Sri Lanka. These include agriculture, education, tourism, water supply, healthcare, medical supplies, modern technology, digital economy, Blue Economy and labour training, he had said, adding that plans were afoot to recommence discussions on China – Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement and to complete the Hambantota Industrial Scheme expeditiously.