Sri Lanka: Chinese Leader for 3-Way Talks on Indian Ocean

By Krishan Francis 2 April 2015

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s government said Wednesday that Chinese President Xi Jinping has proposed three-party talks with India and Sri Lanka to clear any misgivings over its activities in the Indian Ocean region.

Cabinet minister Rauff Hakeem, who accompanied President Maithripapa Sirisena on a four-day visit to China, told reporters on his return that the proposal was made at the talks between the two leaders.

Hakeem quoted Xi as saying that the Chinese government was “looking forward to developing trilateral talks between Colombo, Delhi and Beijing and if there are any issues to be discussed they are always prepared to sort these matters through a trilateral dialog.”

India has been suspicious of China’s increased involvement in a region it perceives to be its traditional territory of influence.

China has funded infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka including an airport, sea port, power plants and highways. Its new Silk Road is seen as a way of encircling India and controlling port access along sea lanes linking the energy-rich Persian Gulf and economic centers in eastern China.

During last week’s visit, Liu Jianchao, China’s assistant minister for foreign affairs, told reporters that it would be beneficial for the three countries to have cooperation in economic and social development.

During his South Asian visit last September, Xi won support from Sri Lanka and the Maldives for the Silk Road.

However, the new government in Sri Lanka has tried to balance its standing between the two regional giants.

Shifting from his predecessor’s heavy pro-China policy, Sirisena chose New Delhi for his overseas visit after his January election and ordered a review of China-funded projects, including a port city project that particularly made India uneasy.

Soon after Sirisena’s visit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Sri Lanka, the first Indian head to visit the neighboring island in 28 years.

The US$1.5 billion project that has become the face of China’s influence in Sri Lanka is a new city to be built on an artificial land off Sri Lanka’s west coast, which is close to India. China will hold outright ownership of part of the land under the agreement.

Sirisena suspended the project. He has told China that its future will be decided after considering environmental impacts, national and regional security, said Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne who was also part of the delegation.