BEIJING: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has conveyed his "heartfelt gratitude" to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for China's vote against a recent UNHRC resolution on the island nation's rights record.
During the telephone conversation on Monday, Xi pushed the Sri Lankan leader to speed up Beijing's major infrastructure projects under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Rajapaksa conveyed his "heartfelt gratitude" to Xi and the Chinese government for the support to Sri Lanka at the recently concluded 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, Sri Lanka's online newspaper Colombo Page quoted the President's Media division as saying.
Rajapaksa also thanked China for providing 600,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Sri Lanka.
The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 23 adopted a strong resolution against Sri Lanka's rights record, in a setback to Colombo, which made determined efforts to garner international support ahead of the voting.
The resolution titled "Promotion of Reconciliation Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka' was adopted by the UNHRC after 22 members out of 47 voted in favour of it. Eleven members voted against the resolution.
India was among 14 countries that abstained from voting, while China and Russia were among the 11 members who voted against it.
Xi told Rajapaksa that China is willing to work with Sri Lanka to enhance the BRI cooperation.
China had unveiled the BRI in 2013 with an aim to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes.
President Xi has already announced that China would invest around USD 126 billion for the project.
However, there has been suspicion among several countries that the main aim of the project is to expand China's influence globally.
The initiative also led to allegations of smaller countries reeling under mounting Chinese debt.
Struggling to pay back over USD 8 billion Chinese loans and investments, the previous Sri Lankan government has handed over the majority share of the Hambantota port to a Chinese state-owned company for 99-year lease to raise USD 1.2 billion.
Referring to BRI projects, Xi said, "the Port City of Colombo and the Port of Hambantota are two projects that have great potential to contribute to the socio-economic development of Sri Lanka. We hope to see them completed soon".
"The port city has the potential to greatly expand foreign investment opportunities. It is also a solution to unemployment," he said.
China stands ready to steadily push forward major projects like the Colombo Port City and the Hambantota Port, and promote high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, providing robust impetus for Sri Lanka's post-pandemic economic recovery and sustainable development, Xi was quoted as saying by an official statement by the Chinese foriegn ministry.
President Rajapaksa noted that the Hambantota Port and other infrastructure development projects are progressing satisfactorily and requested the Chinese government to complete the remaining work on the project expeditiously, the Colombo Page report said.
Xi said China attaches great importance to the development of bilateral ties, and stands ready to work with Sri Lanka to determine the strategic direction and achieve steady growth of their relationship, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Xi Jinping emphasised that China and Sri Lanka are strategic cooperative partners that enjoy sincere mutual assistance and ever-lasting friendship.
China will never forget Sri Lanka's valuable support for the restoration of its lawful seat in the United Nations, Xi told Rajapaksa.
China is willing to make "continuous joint efforts with Sri Lanka to firmly support each other on issues concerning respective core interests, defend our legitimate rights, promote international equity and justice, and safeguard the common interests of developing countries," the Chinese foreign ministry quoted Xi as saying.