China's Xi Jinping greets Sri Lanka's new President Sirisena

Beijing: President Xi Jinping has greeted his new Sri Lankan counterpart Maithripala Sirisena, saying China wants to take the ties to a new high amid anxieties here that the big clout acquired by China under the previous regime may wear thin in the new political dispensation.

 Chinas Xi Jinping greets Sri Lankas new President Sirisena

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Reuters

In his congratulatory message, Xi who visited Sri Lanka last year, becoming the first Chinese head of state to go to Colombo in three decades, pledged to promote the strategic cooperative partnership between the two countries under Sirisena leadership.

Besides being traditional friendly neighbours, Xi noted in his message that relations have withstood the "test of time", a gentle reminder about the heights the relations touched under previous President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, under whose decade-old regime Sri Lanka became China's closest ally next only to Pakistan.

In his message Xi said that in recent years, China and Sri Lanka have set up a strategic cooperative partnership and kept expanding mutually beneficial cooperation in various fields, bringing tangible interests to the two peoples.

"China regards Sri Lanka as a trustworthy friend and partner," he said.

"Attaching great importance to the development of relations with Sri Lanka, I am willing to make concerted efforts with the Sri Lankan side to keep lifting the China-Sri Lanka strategic cooperative partnership to higher levels," Xi said.

China has made big political investment by pumping over USD seven billion capital and loans during Rajapaksa regime.

It is concerned that the dangers of Sri Lankan public perception equating the disgraced outgoing regime with that of China, blunting its image in a country which emerged as Beijing's pivot to expanding its foot prints in India's back yard and Indian Ocean.

The concerns arise from the statements of Sirisena and the new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe that the mega investment taken at high rates of interests deeply indebted Sri Lanka for generations.

"This credit money received from abroad the mega ransom goes to few individuals Generations of our children and grandchildren will not be able to completely finish paying off this debt. If this trend continues for another six years, our country would again become a colony and we would be slaves," Sirisena's poll manifests said.

Last month Wickremsinghe who heads the United National Party (UNP) said if elected the new government would scrap the Colombo Port City Project for which China invested over USD 1.3 billion.

Wickramsinge said the project would be scrapped because it would end up destroying the coastal belt from Negombo to Beruwala.

China sees Colombo port as a key to its mega Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road project as it was seen as a gateway to the China's presence in India's backyard the Indian Ocean.

Rajapaksa was first to support the project when it was announced by Xi last year.

The one road and one belt are Xi's most ambitious projects for which he allocated USD 40 billion fund.

After laying foundation to Colombo project during his visit, Xi even referred to Sri Lanka as "all weather friend" a term Beijing exclusively reserved for Pakistan for many decades to characterise close relations.

For his part Rajapaksa who deftly used China card to stave off India's pressure for a constitutional settlement of ethnic Tamils issue made seven trips Beijing during his tenure to firm up his ties here.

Chinese strategic analysts say that the defeat of Rajapaksa and his unpopularity will not affect China’s image in Sri Lanka.

"The defeat is not because of the close relationship between Sri  Lanka and China," but because of internal political issues Hu Shisheng, Director, South Asia and Southeast Asian Studies, Chinese Institute for Contemporary International Relations said.

"The maritime silk  road initiated by China is for the regional purpose, will be functioned like public goods providing platform. Everyone participating will be benefited," he told PTI here today.

"Sri Lanka's dream of being an Indian Ocean Hub, acting as Singapore in Indian Ocean, could be much better served if coordinating its development strategy with China initiated Silk Road Planning," he said.

Sri Lanka's development is in badly need of capital, skills and infrastructure construction capacities, "where China enjoys incomparable strength," Hu said citing construction of Colombo and Hambanthota Ports.

"Therefore I don't think Sri Lanka would let the strategic opportunities to go away. Sri Lanka had lost nearly 30 years' glory as an Indian Ocean hub due to the civil war," he said.

PTI

Updated Date: Jan 10, 2015 12:30:53 IST