Balancing act: Sirisena in Beijing, meets Xi Jinping

Amid reports of Beijing’s declining influence under the new dispensation in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s newly-elected President Maithripala Sirisena held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who hoped for stronger ties with Colombo.

This was Mr Sirisena’s first visit to Beijing since taking office in January.

Unlike his download (1), who was pursuing an overtly pro-China policy and riling India in the process, President Sirisena has promised to pursue a more balanced policy and indicated that his government will take a fresh look at some of Chinese investments and projects in his country. This has fuelled concerns in Beijing about losing clout with a reliable ally in South Asia, which some suspect was being used to contain China.

The Sirisena government has put on hold $1.5 billion China-funded port city project in Colombo on allegedly environmental and procedural grounds. Sirisena had earlier vowed to reconsider the deal as he thought it wasn’t transparent enough.

According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry official’s statement, the visiting president assured his Chinese counterpart that the construction work will resume once the problems are “sorted out”.

Speaking on the relations between two countries, Xi said, “We will continue to make efforts toward building the relationship towards a new era in the traditional friendship between China and Sri Lanka.” He added, “Mr President, you are an old friend of the Chinese people.”

China wants to “deepen the mutually beneficial cooperation in all spheres, push forward genuinely helping each other in our strategic partnership”, Xi added at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Mr Sirisena aims to balance Sri Lanka’s relationship with China as well as India, which has become increasingly concerned over Chinese ambitions in the Indian Ocean. India will be closely watching the outcomes of Sirisena’s maiden visit to Beijing.

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