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China dismisses Wijeyadasa’s concerns and pushes for FTA



Chinese investment in Sri Lanka

‘Jaffna is not situated south of any country … there is no hidden agenda’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chinese Ambassador to Colombo Qi Zhenhong said yesterday Beijing wanted to have a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Sri Lanka and emphasised the pivotal importance of concluding the FTA soon.

The Ambassador discussed the issue at a meeting with a selected group of journalists at the Galle Face Hotel yesterday (9) evening. The Chinese Ambassador addressed the print media soon after the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi left the country after meeting the top Sri Lankan political leadership.

Responding to media queries, the top Chinese envoy assured that China wouldn’t take advantage of Sri Lanka under any circumstances. The Ambassador described the bilateral relationship between the two countries as a strategic partnership.

The Chinese push for FTA gathers momentum in the wake of controversial agreements the incumbent dispensation had finalised with US-based investor now challenged in the Supreme Court, as well as fundamental rights plea against the recently inked agreements on the Trincomalee oil tank farm.

The Chinese Ambassador explained the short and long term measures jointly taken by China and Sri Lanka to address the growing financial crises experienced by Sri Lanka. Reference was made to the recent currency swap worth Yuan10 bn (approximately USD 1.5 bn).

The Ambassador did not answer repeated specific questions whether China would consider restructuring Sri Lanka’s debt.

Acknowledging the crises including debt servicing experienced by Sri Lanka, the ambassador asserted that the country would overcome the daunting challenges. Claiming that Sri Lanka had faced far bigger challenges in the past, the envoy described the current situation as temporary.

The Ambassador underscored how the FTA could help Sri Lanka in the long run. The Chinese diplomat dismissed assertions that the proposed FTA would be disadvantageous to Sri Lanka and that Beijing sought the instrument at the expense of the smaller economy.

Ambassador alleged that some countries had taken advantage of Sri Lanka by way of FTAs. The Ambassador stressed the need to finalize the FTA without further delay. When asked to explain the delay, the Chinese Ambassador suggested that the media should raise the issue with the Sri Lankan side.

There have been six rounds of talks between the two sides.

Declaring the Chinese were flexible on the matter, the Ambassador said they were prepared to discuss Sri Lanka’s concerns.

The Island raised several matters of concern, including the controversy over the allegedly contaminated carbonic fertiliser consignment and ruling party lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, accusing China of taking advantage of an utterly corrupt system here to its advantage. Asked whether China has taken up the former Justice Minister’s allegations with the government, the Ambassador said such statements were normal as the country was open to different opinions. The Ambassador said that there was no basis for such accusations. He pointed out that the current status of bilateral relations proved such criticism couldn’t be taken seriously. The Ambassador said that there was no basis for such accusations. He pointed out that the current status of bilateral relations proved such criticism couldn’t be taken seriously.

Recently, MP Rajapakse in a letter to the Chinese President, questioned the integrity of Chinese endeavours. One-time President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka vowed that a future government would take over Chinese investments in Selendiva.

He described the Colombo Port City project on glowing terms on the basis of investments already received, forthcoming investments and the parliamentary approval received by the Colombo Port City Commission. Reference was made to the huge parliamentary majority received for the Bill with the Ambassador comparing the parliamentary approval with that of public support.

The Ambassador also commented on his recent visit to the Jaffna peninsula as well as the power projects based on Jaffna islands. Having explained his Jaffna visit being delayed due to the situation caused by Covid-19, the Ambassador emphasized Jaffna was the northernmost part of Sri Lanka and not positioned south of any other country. He said that China was keen to see how it could help Northern Sri Lanka after the successful conclusion of three decades long war over a decade ago.

China provided much required firepower and training at a time many countries balked at backing Sri Lanka’s war against separatist terrorism.

Beijing’s Ambassador denied having a hidden agenda. He warned cancellation of Northern Power projects could be of serious detriment to Sri Lanka as the Chinese private sector secured the ADB funded project through an international bidding process. He denied embassy involvement in the power projects.

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“Foreign bond holders more important to govt. than hard-pressed people”



SJB slams GR’s policy speech

The main opposition SJB says that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Policy Speech delivered in Parliament on Jan 18 failed to provide solutions to the crises faced by the country.

Addressing a press briefing held at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo on Thursday, SJB MP Eran Wickremaratne said that the crises with regard to economic management and governance had gone beyond the control of the government subjecting the masses to severe hardships without essential goods and services.

Wickremaratne said that  there had been no increase in the value of  GDP supporting the domestic and foreign borrowings by this government during the last two years.

He accused the government of giving priority to paying off debts of foreign cronies while  starving the people without essential foods inclusive of fuel for electricity generation.

“People who could not afford to basic necessities despite having cash in hand due to the shortage of dollars and foreign exchange now had to stay in the dark for several hours a day without electricity due to lack of fuel as the govt has not been able to maintain a supply chain properly. But the government, having crossed its wires, gives priority to repaying the loan to its cronies while mounting pressure on its citizens,” Wickremaratne said.

“President Rajapaksa’s Throne Speech did not provide answers to any of  the current problems  facing the country. Although the country faced two major problems, there was no answer to either of them in the President’s policy statement.

“First, rising commodity prices push up inflation increasing  vegetable prices. Secondly, the import of essential commodities has come to a complete standstill due to the foreign exchange deficit. There is a shortage not only for  food and fuel but also for  medicines for the people.”

He said only 25% of the country’s essential medicines are produced locally and the rest are imported. There is also a shortage of essential medicines due to lack of dollars for imports.

At a time when the people are under so much of  pressure, the government is  boasting of servicing   international sovereign bonds on time. People need to be told the secret of why foreign debtors are more important to the government than the citizens of the country, Wickremaratne said.

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COVID-19 on the rise again; 800+ new cases a second day running



(Economynext) New COVID-19 cases are on the rise again in Sri Lanka, with health authorities detecting over 800 new infections on Thursday (20) for a second consecutive day.

With the 827 new cases, total cases in the country have gone up to 599,363, official data showed.

Around 15,279 patients are currently receiving treatment in hospital or at home.

With 12 deaths reported in the last 24 hour period, the island nation’s COVID-19 death toll has reached 15,243.

Health authorities warned that the sector could face challenges managing new patients if daily cases continue to surge.

Officials are also concerned about an apparent hesitance for the booster dose of the vaccine that was largely absent in the initial rollout.

“We have provided the opportunity to get the booster countrywide. But because the fatality rate is now low people may think taking it is no longer necessary,” State Minister of Pharmaceutical Production Channa Jayasumana said speaking to journalists on Friday (21).

“Sri Lanka will go back to the previous state with people not taking the booster dose,” he warned.

The booster rate is very low compared to Sri Lanka’s otherwise impressive vaccination numbers, said Jayasumana.

“Only 4.8 million have taken the booster so far, and only 26,796 came forward yesterday to get it.

“With the increase of patients, even though the fatality rate is low, it can be overwhelming for the health sector if patient numbers in hospital wards and ICUs go up.”

Sri Lanka has so far vaccinated 16.3 with the first dose while 13.8 have received both doses.

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Prevention, cooperation, mutual assistance essential to counter connected nature of terrorists in South Asia – Army Chief



Prevention, cooperation and mutual assistance in controlled measures at international borders are essential to counter the transnational and connected nature of terrorists and criminal activists in the South Asian region, said Chief of Defence Staff and Army Commander General Shavendra Silva on Thursday, emphasising on the need of law enforcement’s institutional reforms based on common and agreed policies.”

“In the legitimate government efforts to fight terrorism or organised crimes, in this regard, a possible South Asian regional treaty could promote counter-terrorism and anti-crime measures by promoting institutional structures and decision-making processes to promote cooperation, coordination, shared expertise and common legal approaches,” said Silva while virtually addressing the “Countering use of Crypto Currencies to Finance Terrorism” event on Thursday.

“Due to the transnational and connected nature of terrorists and criminal activists in our region, prevention, cooperation and mutual assistance in controlled measures at international borders are essential,” he added.

The General also said that there are avenues for collaboration by establishing information exchange at customs, imposing immigration barriers and commonly agreeing on the regulation of transporting and stockpiling of weapons and drugs, dangerous goods or potential warlike equipment.

Emphasising that mutual assistance can be enhanced by extending measures for collecting evidence of suspects, exchange of wanted personnel and etc, Silva said that enhancing the capacities of regional countries to handle terrorism and criminals would depend extensively on the training of law enforcement agencies.

“Apart from training for military personnel, of a particular country, it is also essential to carry out joint training for various armed forces of the South Asian region. Conducting counter-terrorism operations at a regional scale would also require regional funding. It is understood that funding counter-terrorism campaigns in recent times has become quite expensive due to the sophistication of insurgence,” Silva added.

The General also said that “this is where we need cooperation as very experience armies, who have long been engaging in counter-terrorism operations, we have specialities, therefore we can share each other’s specialities to counter each other’s imitations.”

“Law enforcement’s institutional reforms based on common and agreed policies and principles in the regional countries feel enhanced the compatibility between the countries in fighting transnational crimes and terrorism,” he added. (ANI)

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