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Sri Lanka keen to develop ties with China

12-29-2011 14:36 BJT

by Easwaran Rutnam

COLOMBO, Dec. 29 (Xinhua) -- Sri Lanka's ruling party insists that its cooperation with China should not be seen by India as a threat to the South Asian region.

A member of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and former Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama told Xinhua that the island nation has a special relationship with China similar to the ties it has with India.

Over the past few years India had expressed concerns of China's growing presence in Sri Lanka after China invested on several key projects in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, when asked by the Indian media last month about China's role in Sri Lanka, he said that his government turned to China for assistance in some projects as India had refused to get involved.

Bogollagama, who was the foreign minister during the final stages of a bitter war between Tamil Tiger rebels and the Sri Lankan military in 2009, said that China had given unconditional support to the government at the time to defeat terrorism.

"China's relationship with us is special because they were with us and supported us in countering terrorism. They also supported us in the international arena. The Chinese also assisted the economic drive of President Mahinda Rajapaksa without placing conditions during and after the war," Bogollagama said.

China was involved in the construction of a massive sea port in the southern part of the country and is also building what would be Sri Lanka's second international airport. The Chinese also assisted in the construction of Sri Lanka's first coal power plant and is involved in several highway projects.

As for Sri Lanka's relationship with its immediate neighbor India, Bogollagama said that both countries have a strong traditional and cultural relationship.

"We couldn't just take traditional support to meet all our economic expectations so we depend on China. This should not be seen as a threat to South Asia coming out of Sri Lanka," Bogollagama added.

India has been assisting Sri Lanka mostly to resettle thousands of war displaced minority Tamils in the north and east of the country.

However at the same time India has been very vocal about human rights concerns in Sri Lanka amidst pressure from leaders in the Tamil dominated state of Tamil Nadu in southern India.

"Our relationship with India is unique and cannot be replaced. India also supported us during the fight against terrorism. We are also benefiting from the economic partnerships with India. There are thousands of tourist visiting Sri Lanka from India as well," Bogollagama said.

Asked how Sri Lanka can allay Indian fears over China's involvement on the island, Bogollagama said that it can be done through an existing joint India-Sri Lanka commission.

He said that the commission meets often to discuss several bilateral issues and concerns over China can also be discussed.

"We must have a transparent relationship with India and China," the former Sri Lankan foreign minister said.

Bogollagama also termed as a "misconception" that Sri Lanka' s foreign policy was heavily tilted towards countries in the East.

He noted that during the 30-year war to defeat the Tamil Tigers the West including Europe banned the rebels and cracked down on rebel funding overseas.

Asked about Sri Lanka's relationship with Iran and Libya at a time when the West was seeking support against the leaders of those two countries, Bogollagama said the ties were merely for economic benefit including oil and energy.

Editor:Zhang Hao |Source: Xinhua

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