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.