China on Monday congratulated the newly-elected Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, saying Beijing is ready to work with the new leadership for “high-quality” cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the ambitious intercontinental connectivity project launched by President Xi Jinping.
The Rajapaksa family, including the new president and his elder brother, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, are considered close to Beijing. It was under the elder Rajapaksa’s presidential reign between 2005 and 2015 that Beijing emerged as a key economic ally and major investor of the war-torn country.
“Sri Lanka has successfully held the presidential election, which is a major agenda political agenda at home. We are pleased to see that and offer our sincere congratulations to Gotabaya Rajapaksa on his success,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Geng Shuang, said on Monday.
“China and Sri Lanka are strategic cooperative partners with sincere mutual assistance everlasting friendship,” he said.
“We stand ready to on the basis of respect, equality and mutual benefit work with the new leadership and the government for high-quality BRI cooperation and greater progress in bilateral ties to bring more tangible benefits to two countries and their people,” Geng said at the regular ministry conference.
Rajapaksa was the defence secretary – during his elder brother’s presidency – at the end of the civil war with Tamil rebels.
China at the time was one of the main suppliers of arms and ammunition for the Sri Lankan army.
Since the end of the civil war in May 2009, Beijing has emerged as Colombo’s key investor in infrastructure across the country, a development New Delhi has monitored closely.
China has repeatedly denied that its massive loans to Colombo have pushed the country into a debt trap. Chinese officials have said Beijing, on the contrary, is helping Colombo out of that trap.
Quoting a report by the Lankan Central Bank, state news agency Xinhua reported last month that by the end of 2018 Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt volume was about $52 billion, $6 billion of which was from China, making up only 11.5% of the total debt.