COLOMBO, September 16 – President Xi Jinping was Tuesday due in Sri Lanka where he will launch construction of a Chinese backed $1.4 billion port city as he promotes his vision of a “maritime silk road” in the face of growing competition from Japan and India.
China is increasingly asserting its influence in the Indian Ocean, with Sri Lanka a midway point on one of the world’s busiest international shipping lanes.
It has overtaken India to become the largest investor in Sri Lanka, and has also consistently supported Colombo in its efforts to resist a UN investigation into alleged war crimes. India, by contrast, has pushed Sri Lanka to ensure accountability.
Xi, the first Chinese head of state to visit Sri Lanka in 28 years, said no country should be allowed to intervene in the affairs of the small island nation, which has historically come under the influence of regional power India.
“China resolutely opposes any move by any country to interfere in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs under any excuse,” Xi said in a letter published on the front page of Sri Lanka’s state run Daily News.
“China and Sri Lanka need to turn our wishes into a driving force and enhance exchanges and cooperation between us in maritime, business, infrastructure, defence, tourism and other areas to accelerate the renewal of the maritime silk road for the benefit of our two countries and peoples.”
Xi’s call came amid repeated Sri Lankan assurances that relations were based on commercial rather than security considerations.
The Chinese president arrives from the neighbouring Maldives, where he secured support for his “21st century maritime silk road”, an initiative that seeks to secure trade routes, largely through economic diplomacy.