Chinese defence minister calls on Lanka's top leadership; discusses steps to boost bilateral ties

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Colombo, Apr 28 (PTI) Chinese Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe on Wednesday called on Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and discussed ways to further cement bilateral ties, including defence cooperation and post-pandemic economic recovery.

The Chinese defence minister arrived here along with a high-level delegation on Tuesday on a two-day official visit after he made a brief trip to Bangladesh.

'Had a fruitful discussion with #china defense minister General Wei Fenghe this morning. This visit will further strengthen the ties between two countries,' the president tweeted along with photographs of their meeting.

The Chinese defence minister also called on President Gotabaya's brother and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

'I conveyed my gratitude to the Govt. of China for the generous donation of Sinopharm vaccines & PPE kits since the outbreak of the #COVID19 pandemic,' the Prime Minister tweeted.

'We also discussed post-pandemic economic recovery and steps to be taken to ensure economic stability. Assistance in rebuilding investor confidence and attracting investments- I explained is a key priority for #SriLanka and essential in the path to economic growth of the country,' Mahinda Rajapaksa said in another tweet.

Earlier, a Sri Lankan delegation led by Defence Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne (Retd) had a fruitful discussion with the visiting Chinese delegation led by General Wei, the Sri Lankan defence ministry said in a press release.

Recalling the long existed bilateral ties between two countries, Gen. Gunaratne said China had been a 'historical ally' of Sri Lanka across a multitude of avenues including Buddhism, trade, infrastructure development and global connectivity.

He also appreciated the recent supportive measure extended by Beijing during the UN Human Rights Council resolution tabled against Sri Lanka, the statement said.

The UN body passed a strong resolution which establishes a new accountability process to collect, analyse and preserve evidence of international crimes allegedly committed in Sri Lanka for use in future prosecutions.

“We are looking forward to work together with Sri Lanka to enhance practical cooperation and to promote bilateral relations to a greater extent” said Wei while highlighting the existing military ties between two countries.

The Chinese defence minister also launched the official website of the Chinese National Defence University Alumni Association of Sri Lanka, the statement said.

The two sides also signed a military assistance protocol, it said.

Gen. Wei is the second high-ranking Chinese official to visit the island nation after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In October last year, Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs of the ruling Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi visited Colombo.

The Chinese Defence Minister’s visit assumes significance in the backdrop of a public diplomacy campaign launched by the Chinese embassy on the Chinese-built Port City in Colombo.

Last week, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court heard petitions on the constitutionality of the administrative body of the Port City built on reclaimed sea.

The Port City commission bill was challenged by the Opposition parties and civil society groups over its constitutionality. They want the bill to be subject to a referendum and a special two thirds mandate in Parliament.

The five-member bench of the Supreme Court handed over its determination to Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena after a 5-day hearing. It will be announced in Parliament next week, officials said.

The USD 1.4 billion project, which has been exempted from a series of local laws, has come under severe criticism from the Opposition parties, civil society groups and labour unions which allege that the project violated the country's sovereignty, the Constitution and labour rights.

The Colombo Port City project, expected to play a key role in China's ambitious 'Maritime Silk Road' project in India's backyard, is said to be the single largest private sector development ever in the island nation.

Sri Lanka in recent years carried out various infrastructure development projects with an estimated USD eight billion loans from China.

The huge Chinese loans sparked concerns globally after Sri Lanka handed over the Hambantota port to China in 2017 as debt swap amounting to USD 1.2 billion for a 99 years' lease. PTI CORR CPS AKJ AKJ