China reacts guardedly to Ranil Wickramasinghe’s appointment as Lanka PM
Beijing: China, one of the largest creditors of Sri Lanka, on Friday reacted warily to the appointment of Ranil Wickramasinghe as the country’s Prime Minister succeeding pro-Beijing Mahinda Rajapaksa, saying it supports the government’s efforts to sustain stability in the face of chaos.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing here that China and Sri Lanka enjoyed a traditional friendship and that Beijing has been following closely the developments in Colombo.
“As a traditional, friendly country to Sri Lanka, we closely follow the latest developments, and we also support the Sri Lanka government’s effort to sustain stability,” Zhao said.
He was replying to questions on China’s reaction to United National Party (UNP) leader Wickramasinghe’s appointment, considering that he had a history of probing Chinese investments and whether Beijing will offer debt relief to Sri Lanka like India.
“We support the Sri Lankan government and relevant political parties’ latest efforts to stabilise the situation. It is our sincere hope that all sides in Sri Lanka put the fundamental interests of the nation and the people first, stay united, safeguard stability, and tide over the current difficulties together,” he said.
Zhao, however, gave no indication whether China will step in to help the debt-ridden island nation like India which has committed more than USD 3 billion in loans, credit lines and credit swaps since January this year.
“The Chinese side has made clear its position on several occasions. We will maintain communication and consultation with the Sri Lankan side, and help it restore political and economic stability at an early date”, he said.
Significantly, China has maintained conspicuous silence on the resignation of Mahinda Rajapaksa, who paved the way for Beijing’s substantial strategic investments in the island nation.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is a well-liked Sri Lankan leader in China for promoting large-scale Chinese investments in the island nation disregarding India’s security concerns and the US criticism and warnings over Beijing’s “debt-trap diplomacy” in the strategically located Indian Ocean island.
Though Wickramasinghe had opposed Chinese investments before his election in 2015, his government later cleared the controversial USD 1.4 billion Colombo Port city project to carve out a 665-acre artificial island which he criticised before the polls.
Observers say that it is ironic that both Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which are largest recipients of Chinese loans and investments, faced serious debt repayment problems, prompting them to seek IMF’s interventions much to the chagrin of Beijing as it may lead to international scrutiny of the agreements of its loan and investments.