China and Sri Lanka will use the Maritime Silk Road, proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, to further infrastructure development in the island-nation, despite India’s concerns about Beijing gaining strategic advantage in the Indian Ocean region through the initiative.
“Sri Lanka reiterated its active participation in the Belt and Road Initiative put forward by China. The two sides will use the development of a 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) as an opportunity to further advance infrastructure development,” said a joint statement at the end of Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe’s four-day visit here.
The MSR was part of the Belt and Road Initiative, proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013 with a stated aim of reviving ancient trade routes. But many say the initiative has potential to give China a dominant role in the Indian Ocean.
It is designed to go from China’s coast to Europe through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean in one route, and from China’s coast through the South China Sea to the South Pacific in the other.
India, however, has not endorsed the MSR over concerns about China gaining strategic advantage in the Indian Ocean region, regarded as backyard of India, through the initiative.
Explaining Sri Lanka’s stand, Wickramasinghe said: “Our policy is to make Sri Lanka an (economic) hub of the Indian Ocean. We can accommodate one belt and one road (Silk Road) and Make in India both,” he said.
The joint statement also spoke of China-Sri Lanka free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations, promotion of joint ventures and expand cooperation in the areas of economy, culture, science and technology, and people-to-people contacts.
Significantly the disputed South China Sea figured in the joint statement with Colombo appreciating Beijing’s efforts to maintain peace in the disputed region.
“The two sides stressed the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea. Sri Lanka calls for the settlement of disputes and differences through constructive dialogue, consultation and cooperation by the parties concerned in accordance with international laws and practices,” it said.
“Sri Lanka also appreciates China’s efforts and readiness to promote such dialogue in order to maintain peace and security in the region,” it said. China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about USD five trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.
Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have rival claims. Sri Lanka welcomed the positive engagement of Chinese enterprises in the country’s economic development.
“Sri Lanka also welcomes further investment from Chinese enterprises and will continue its cooperation with Chinese companies by creating a favorable investment climate and business environment for Chinese enterprises,” it said.