COLOMBO: The Maithripala Sirisena government in Sri Lanka is fast mending damaged fences with China. While the stalled $1.4 billion Colombo Port City project is likely to be cleared with some modifications by a committee of secretaries headed by the secretary to the Prime Minister, defence cooperation is also set resume.
Lanka’s State Minister for Defence Ruwan Wijewardene, accompanied by the chiefs of the three services, met Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, on the sidelines of the 14th IISS Asia Security Summit — Shangri La Dialogue 2015 in Singapore on Friday.
During the meeting, both sides agreed that the Defence Dialogue initiated in 2014 during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime was an “important mechanism” to streamline defence cooperation between the two countries.
While Jianguo said China would continue to assist Lanka in defence matters, Wijewardene said he looked forward to China’s participation in the IInd Sri Lanka-China Defence Dialogue to be held in the island nation later this year.
Lanka’s defence ties with China had attracted unfavourable attention in India and the US following the visit of a Chinese nuclear submarine to Colombo during the Rajapaksa regime. The Chinese-funded Hambantota and Colombo harbour projects as well as the Colombo Port City project were seen in the West as being part of China’s controversial “String of Pearls” naval bases project. On coming to power in January, Sirisena put many of these projects on hold.
But the Chinese did not take it lying down. On March 17, Zhou Yongsheng, spokesperson of the Chinese embassy in Colombo, quoted international law to deny that the grant of a piece of land to the Chinese company building the Colombo Port City would be in violation of Lanka’s sovereignty.