Sri Lanka USA

Pom­peo to visit Lanka af­ter Yang holds high-level talks here

Hot on the heels of a high-level Chi­nese visit to Sri Lanka, the United States Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo is due in the coun­try this month, Sri Lanka local newspaper, The Sun­day Times reports.

“He is ex­pected to come,” said Ad­mi­ral Pro f Jayanath Colom­bage, Sec­re­tary to the For­eign Min­istry. Other sources say he is due in two weeks, break­ing away from an of­fi­cial visit to New Delhi where he is to ac­com­pany his col­league, the US De­fence Sec­re­tary Mark Esper, for an in­tel­li­gence- shar­ing pact called Ba­sic Ex­change and Co­op­er­a­tion Agree­ment ex­pected to be signed be­tween the US and In­dia as part of an anti- China Al­liance with Ja­pan and Aus­tralia.

Lat month, th US signed a Se­cu­rity Re­la­tions Agree­ment with the Mal­dives.

Sec­re­tary Pom­peo, who post­poned a pre­vi­ous sched­uled visit last year to Sri Lanka, is ex­pected to ar­rive on Oc­to­ber 27. It will be the high­est-level US gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial of cab­i­net rank to visit the coun­try since one of his pre­de­ces­sors, John Kerry, vis­ited Sri Lanka in 2015.

The stalled ne­go­ti­a­tions on the US$ 480 mil­lion Mil­len­nium Chal­lenge Cor­po­ra­tion (MCC) grant to Sri Lanka are likely to be on the agenda for dis­cus­sions with Pres­i­dent Gotabaya Ra­japaksa and Prime Min­is­ter Mahinda Ra­japaksa dur­ing the visit. It was not yet clear if the pro­posed SOFA ( Sta­tus of Forces Agree­ment) and the ex­ist­ing ACSA ( Ac­qui­si­tion and Cross-Ser­vic­ing Agree­ment) would also be on the agenda.

Meanwhile, fol­low­ing the visit this week to Colombo by Yang Jiechi, a for­mer For­eign Min­is­ter of China and cur­rently a se­nior mem­ber of the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party Polit­buro, Pres­i­dent Got a bay a Ra­japaksa is likely to visit China in early De­cem­ber. Dur­ing the trip, the two coun­tries are ex­pected to sign several agree­ments, the con­tent of which was dis­cussed in prin­ci­ple this week.

Asked whether any se­cu­rity or de­fence deals were spo­ken of, Ad­mi­ral Colom­bage replied in the neg­a­tive.

“Noth­ing was dis­cussed like that, other than to en­hance co­op­er­a­tion in ev­ery field,” he said, em­phat­i­cally. This in­cludes, in gen­eral, agree­ment on sup­port­ing trans­port devel­op­ment. A state­ment re­gard­ing the visit from Pres­i­dent Gotabaya Ra­japaksa’s of­fice also made no ref­er­ence to se­cu­rity or de­fence mat­ters.

China did, how­ever, press for the Port City law to be passed no later than Novem­ber. The law is ex­pected to de­clare the re­claimed land to be the coun­try’s first ser­vice-ori­ented spe­cial eco­nomic zone. It will ad­dress red tape and short­com­ings in ap­proval pro­cesses within a ring-fenced, con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment. An of­fi­cial state­ment said fu­ture ar­eas of bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion in­clude agri­cul­ture, ed­u­ca­tion, tourism, wa­ter sup­ply, health­care, med­i­cal sup­plies, dig­i­tal econ­omy, the blue econ­omy and labour train­ing. Talks on the China-Lanka Free Trade Agree­ment will re­sume and the Ham­ban­tota In­dus­trial Park will be speed­ily com­pleted.

Mr. Yang who led the seven-mem­ber del­e­ga­tion is the Direc­tor of the Of­fice of the For­eign Af­fairs Com­mis­sion of the Com­mu­nist Party Cen­tral Com­mit­tee. Mr Yang as­sured Pres­i­dent Ra­japaksa China’s con­tin­ued as­sis­tance to­wards Sri Lanka’s devel­op­ment drive and called the present sta­tus of bi­lat­eral re­la­tions “highly sat­is­fac­tory”. Main­tain­ing and pro­mot­ing this friend­ship is a key pri­or­ity of Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jing­ping. And China will firmly stand with Sri Lanka to pro­tect the coun­try’s in­de­pen­dence, sovereignty and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity at in­ter­na­tional fora, in­clud­ing United Nations Hu­man Rights Coun­cil, Pres­i­dent Ra­japaksa’s of­fice quotes him as say­ing. Mr Yang held several high-level po­si­tions at China’s For­eign Min­istry and was China’s Am­bas­sador to US from 2001 to 2005 and Chi­nese For­eign Min­is­ter from 2007-2013. He now holds a po­si­tion equiv­a­lent to Vice Premier. Pres­i­dent Ra­japaksa pointed out that China had been a long­stand­ing friend to Sri Lanka, ir­re­spec­tive of the ad­min­is­tra­tion in power. It sup­ported Sri Lanka to de­feat ter­ror­ism and build in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing the Ham­ban­tota Port, the Port City and Souther n Ex­press­way.

The Ham­ban­tota Port was Sri Lanka’s, not China’s, idea, Pres­i­dent Ra­japaksa said. But China had of­fered to fund it. Now, many geopo­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts call it a Chi­nese debt trap to gain con­trol over Sri Lankan af­fairs.

“I want to prove that it is not the case and that this large-scale project will help im­prove the liv­ing stan­dards of the peo­ple,” he is quoted as telling the vis­i­tors. “As­sist us in this en­deav­our.” He said he wants to bring to Sri Lanka the type of devel­op­ment in ru­ral ar­eas that he had seen dur­ing his 13 vis­its to China be­fore he be­came Pres­i­dent.

Mr Ra­japaksa wanted Sri Lanka’s trade deficit with China to be low­ered with China buy­ing more Sri Lankan goods. He pressed for more Chi­nese in­vest­ment and vis­i­tors. He en­cour­aged Chi­nese par­tic­i­pa­tion in the do­mes­tic tea auc­tion and called for the set­ting up of a tech­nol­ogy univer­sity with Chi­nese back­ing. Also in the del­e­ga­tion were China In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment Co­op­er­a­tion Agency chair­man Wang Xiao­tao, As­sis­tant For­eign Min­is­ter Deng Lee and the For­eign Min­istry’s Asian Af­fairs Deputy Direc­tor Gen­eral Chen Song.

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