Sri Lanka embraces China’s rise

Minister of External Affairs G. L. Peiris has said that Sri Lanka will embrace China’s rise, and that its friendship with China is “not an exclusive one” and wouldn’t harm the interests of other countries.

Peiris made the remarks in an exclusive interview with the Global Times, ahead of a state visit to China by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The visit, starting from Monday, will be the sixth trip to China by Rajapaksa, who was among the first foreign leaders to hold a phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping soon after Xi became the head of state. Peiris characterized the bilateral ties as “very warm and mutually supportive” and said they have “stood the test of time.”

China supported Colombo during its decades-long battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and continued its assistance after the LTTE was rooted out in May 2009. “China has contributed very significantly to our economic development by assisting us with infrastructure after the eradication of terrorism,” Peiris said.

Peiris said Sri Lanka perceives China’s rise as an opportunity, while some of China’s neighbors remain skeptical toward Beijing’s growing power.

Sri Lanka will benefit from the shift in the world’s economic gravity to the Pacific Rim, he said, noting that China is becoming a power which is more outward-looking and that this could benefit the island nation in the Indian Ocean.

Over 70 percent of China’s imported energy resources go through the Indian Ocean.

Peiris noted that Sri Lanka has no apprehensions or fears of China’s rise. “On the contrary, we think that as China’s position becomes stronger in the world, Sri Lanka could benefit from that, because of the nature and quality of our relationship,” he said.

In March, China supported Sri Lanka against a US-backed resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

China has provided loans to the war-ravaged country to develop infrastructure, and Chinese enterprises are active in building highways, railroad systems and harbors as well as energy facilities in the country.

However, the close ties between Sri Lanka and China have raised suspicions among other powers like India that it may be used against them. Responding to such concerns, Peiris clarified that the friendship between the two sides is not an exclusive one, noting the fears “have no foundation.”

“Sri Lanka has friendly relations with other countries as well, but there has never been a conflict, because China has never sought to use her relations with Sri Lanka in order to put any other country in peril or to jeopardize interests of any other countries,” he said.

As for bilateral ties, Peiris said while the political relationship is “as good as it can be,” Sri Lanka hopes to expand trade ties with China by exporting more value-added goods so as to narrow its trade deficit.