China to send big team to Commonwealth business forum to woo Sri Lankans
While the Indian Prime Minister is weighing the pros and cons of attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka in November in the context of pressures from Tamil Nadu to avoid the summit, the Chinese are planning to woo Lankans by sending a 120-member business delegation to the Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF), a major event on the sidelines of the summit. The CBF is open to non-commonwealth countries also.
Reporting this from Beijing, the Colombo-based Sunday Times said that the biggest-ever Chinese delegation would be the harbinger of a Sino-Lankan Strategic Cooperation Partnership (SCP). The SCP would be based on the findings of field studies already conducted by Chinese business and economic fact-finding missions.
“We may expect Chinese investments in Jaffna in the very near future,” the paper quoted Anura Siriwardena, Secretary to the Lankan Ministry of Industry and Commerce, as saying. Siriwardena expected Lanka to begin exporting garments, tea, rubber, gems and jewellery and light engineering goods to China under a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) being negotiated.
China is already Lanka’s biggest creditor, having pledged over a billion US dollars in 2012.
China is forging ahead in an area in which India has failed. After much dilly-dallying, the Lankan Minister of Economic Development, Basil Rajapaksa, recently made it clear that the long-standing Indian proposal for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) was not acceptable. Lanka fears economic and political domination by India. In contrast, there is no fear of Chinese domination.
Interestingly, the “strategic cooperation partnership” has among its goals, political objectives like the “preservation of national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
While China is not seen as a political threat, Lanka sees India as a threat to its sovereignty and integrity, given its interventions on behalf of the Tamil minority in the North and East and its continued insistence on the implementation of the 13th Amendment (13A) of the Lankan constitution which envisages some devolution of power to the provinces. Lankan rulers fear that full implementation of 13A will lead to secession. They also feel that India is in cahoots with the “separatist” Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which is set to win the first-ever elections to the Northern Provincial Council on September 21.