The first event of the Pathfinder Foundation’s newly established ‘China-Sri Lanka Cooperation Studies Centre’ (CSLCSC) was held in Shanghai, from 5-6 November and was attended by a 13-member Sri Lanka delegation and a group of senior Chinese scholars and former ambassadors representing the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies (SIIS).
A special feature of the conference was affording an opportunity for a Sri Lankan business delegation to meet with their counterparts and establish contacts.
China is marching confidently to reach its goal of being the leading global economic power within the next several decades. To achieve this objective, China has decided that it should seek cooperation of the countries along the ancient silk route across Central Asia to Europe and the sea route, via the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
The visionary plan, now known as ‘One Belt – One Road’, to construct the two routes was unveiled by the Chinese President Xi Jinping in the autumn of 2013. Since then, Chinese authorities have been successful in gathering support of over 60 countries for the project, including Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka enjoyed a coveted position in the ancient silk roads as one of the prominent crossroads of the land and sea routes over 1,500 years. Scholars and religious personalities accompanied traders, who traversed the perilous ancient silk roads in search of knowledge and to disseminate religious beliefs. Sri Lankans are familiar with the Fa Xian, the Chinese Buddhist monk, who visited the island in the 5th century, and other travellers such as Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta, who took the ancient Silk Roads and left historical accounts of our island.
The ‘Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road’ released by the Chinese authorities in March 2015 provides an account of the massive project and the rationale behind it. Sri Lankan participants spoke on subjects such as Sri Lanka perspective on global developments, MSR and Sri Lanka China economic ties, Perception of South Asia: Geo-politics and security. Sri Lanka’s role in MSR: Economic perspective, Proposed China-Sri Lanka FTA, New thinking for Sri Lanka Cooperation and Development of business and trade potential for Sri Lanka and China.
The Chinese participants addressed a series of issues such as New developments in South Asia, Sri Lanka and the 21st century MSR: opportunities and challenges, China-South Asia strategy and China-Sri Lanka relations. China-Sri Lanka people to people diplomacy, MSR and China’s vision for new model of cooperation with South Asia and Prospects for deeper engagement and cooperation: China’s initiative for South Asia.
During the discussion, Sri Lankan side highlighted the international status enjoyed by the Colombo Port, availability of the newly constructed Hambantota Port as well as the Mattala International Airport, and potential for international shipping involving both ports connected by a highway and a railway line.
The Chinese side spoke of the agreement reached between China and Pakistan to develop China-Pakistan Economic Corridor at a cost of $11 billion and suggested that Sri Lanka too should come up with proposals for development of infrastructure to actively take part in the MSR project.
On the subject of project financing, Sri Lanka side highlighted the mounting debt servicing issue, particularly with regard to China, and the need to address the matter by both countries, so that Sri Lanka could look forward for infrastructure development without getting deeper in to debt.
The second day of the conference was devoted to ‘Invest Sri Lanka Business Leaders’ Roundtable’ attended by leading business conglomerates in the two countries. Among them were, Aitken Spence PLC, Hayley’s Advantis, Hatton National Bank, Jetwing Hotels Ltd. and Kings Investment. Among the Chinese companies were China Mechanical Holdings (INT.), China Harbour Engineering Company, China Zhenhua Port Machinery Company, Holly Worldwide Holdings, China International Contractors’ Association and members of the media.
The highlight of the conference was signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Prof. Chen Dongxiao, President of SIIS and Bernard Goonetilleke, Chairman of PF, aimed at future cooperation between the two institutions. The SIIS is an institution dedicated to supporting Chinese modernization and economic development and supported by the Municipal administration of Shanghai. It concentrates its research activities on international politics, economics, security strategy development, and external Chinese relations.
PF founded by Milinda Moragoda in 2006 focuses on economic reform and promotion of bilateral relations with a number of countries such as China, India, Republic of Korea, USA etc. and participates in the work undertaken by ‘Quad Plus’, whose membership include Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines and theUSA.
The Shanghai event was coordinated and facilitated by the Embassy of China in Colombo. The Sri Lankan group includes team leader Bernard Goonetilleke, Shirantha Herath, Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, Admiral (Retired), Dr. Jayanath Colombage, Dr. Rohan Fernando, Dr. Janaka Wijayasiri, Dr. O.G. Dayaratna-Banda, Subram Ramaswamy, Niro Cooke, Ruan Samarasinghe, Ibrahim Saleem, Ayanthi Fernando and Luxman Siriwardena, Executive Director, Pathfinder Foundation. The Business delegation joining the Track II team represented Aitken Spence PLC, Hayley’s Advantis Ltd., Hatton National Bank, Kings Investments, etc
(CFT - 12112015)