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* Sri Lanka, China look to step up mutual cooperation
Thu, May 22, 2014, 06:15 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

May 22, Shanghai: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Chinese President Xi Jinping held bilateral talks in Shanghai Thursday and discussed the progress of ongoing collaborative projects as well as new areas of cooperation.

"I am happy that the development assistance granted by China to Sri Lanka has been very much in keeping with my policies for the country's growth, which is much appreciated," President Rajapaksa said.

President Rajapaksa is in China to participate in the fourth Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit which concluded on Wednesday in Shanghai.

Noting that Sri Lanka is an important partner, President Xi said he was happy to see the relations between the two countries be elevated to the level of "strategic cooperation" during the President's last visit to China in May 2013.

He further said that China looks to "step up mutually beneficial cooperation" with Sri Lanka, which will require the two countries to "maintain high-level engagement."

Calling Sri Lanka a reliable friend and important cooperation partner in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region, Xi said China supports Sri Lanka's efforts to maintain national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and opposes any interference in the country's internal affairs under the excuse of human rights.

While thanking China for its support at the U.N. Human Rights Council, President Rajapaksa assured China that Sri Lanka "continues to uphold the 'One China Policy,' which has been a consistent feature in our foreign policy." He also pledged solidarity with the Chinese Government in the fight against terrorism.

The two presidents also spoke about maritime cooperation.

"We strongly support the 'Maritime Silk Route Economic Belt' initiative of China and will cooperate in its implementation," President Rajapaksa said.

President Xi, while appreciating Sri Lanka's support, said the island is an important player in the initiative and "an important country in the Indian Ocean."

He urged both countries to jointly work toward achievements in the maritime economy, port construction and maritime security.

The Chinese President also urged both countries to launch negotiation on a China-Sri Lanka free-trade agreement (FTA) as soon as possible.

Among other topics discussed were defense cooperation, tourism and cybersecurity. Sri Lanka has identified China as a potential tourism market, President Rajapaksa noted, and hope to receive 275,000 Chinese tourists by 2016.

With regard to cybersecurity, President Rajapaksa said, "With the spread of cybercrime causing unrest in countries, Sri Lanka wishes to take precautions against such acts."

President Rajapaksa also invited President Xi to visit Sri Lanka, which he said "would no doubt give you the opportunity to see the rapid development in Sri Lanka, undertaken particularly with the generous assistance provided by China," noting that the last visit by a Chinese head of state to Sri Lanka was in 1986.

President Xi, pointing out he felt the sincerity of President Rajapaksa's request, said he will make it a priority to visit Sri Lanka as soon as possible.

Minister of External Affairs Prof. G.L. Peiris, Chief of Staff Mr. Gamini Senarath, Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs Mrs. Kshenuka Seneviratne and Sri Lanka's Ambassador in China Mr. Ranjith Uyangoda were also present at the discussion.

(Photos by Sudath Silva)

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