Focus on people to people contact:
Lanka-China ties at all time high
Relations between Sri Lanka and China are at
its peak and the two countries cooperate in almost all sectors. The Sri
Lankan Embassy in Bejing has focused on the promotion of people to
people contact between the two countries by consolidating ties with
provincial governments in China. The Embassy has succeeded in persuading
Sri Lankan exporters to tap the huge potential in Chinese market for
their products. Interviewed by the Daily News, Sri Lankan Ambassador in
China Karunathilake Amunugama says that Chinese still remember and value
the Sino Lanka relations during Mrs Bandaranaike’s era
Following is the interview....
Q: How do you see Sino Lanka relations?
A: The relations between Sri Lanka and China began in late
1940s formally and we were the first non-Communist country to recognize
the People’s Republic of China even before the United Nations.
The people of China have very high respect for former Prime Ministers
Sirimavo Bandaranaike and SWRD Bandaranaike. Very senior officials of
the Chinese Government who are in their 50s and 60s still remember how
they took to street with Lion flags to welcome Sirimavo Bandaranaike in
Beijing. Sri Lanka has been trustworthy friend and the people of China
always value this longstanding friendship.
They remember with gratitude the role played by the Former Prime
Ministers Bandaranaikes in strengthening ties between the two countries.
The feelings of Chinese towards Sri Lanka is very sentimental and warm.
There was a strong feeling of friendliness and warmness between the
people of both countries during former Prime Ministers Bandaranaikes and
Chinese Premier Chue En Lai’s period. The bilateral relations cooled
down with the embrace of open economic policy by Sri Lanka in the late
‘70s and the West centric policy adopted by the then Government.
Q: How do you see the bilateral relations under President
A: Ties between the two countries have strengthened in an
unprecedented way. Soon after President Mahinda Rajapaksa came to power,
he decided to revive the longstanding friendship with China and has made
three official visits to China on the invitation of the Chinese
During President Rajapaksa’s visit, he signed a number of cooperation
agreements with China. Sri Lanka has signed a number of agreements with
foreign countries but the question lies on the number of agreements that
were brought to implementation level.
All agreements signed by China and Sri Lanka were implemented with
the cooperation extended by the two countries. These agreements cover a
wide spectrum of cooperation in the fields of economy, culture, society
and the development.
Construction site at Hambantota harbour. File photo
Two Presidents at their meeting in Bejing stressed the importance of
promoting people to people contact between the two countries in order to
perpetuate bilateral relations.
Q: Why did President Rajapaksa seek Chinese assistance for the
construction of the Hambantota harbour?
A: President Rajapaksa explained to the Chinese leaders why he
needed assistance for the construction of Hambantota harbour. He said
that Hambantota and adjoining districts are the least developed
districts in the country.
The President pointed out that the Western province in Sri Lanka
achieved tremendous development with the construction of Colombo harbour
and Hambantota and the surrounding regions would also see development if
this port is constructed in Hambantota.
The President described the importance of this harbour to Sri Lanka
and its development due to its close proximity to international sea
routes. The Chinese Government hailed President Rajapaksa’s sincere
desire in bringing Hambantota and adjoining districts under the massive
development drive with the construction of the Hambantota Port.
The deep feelings of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has towards the
country and the people were recognized by the Chinese Government.
Chinese leaders and officials told me that this kind of strong
feeling towards the Motherland by a leader is something very special.
Q: What kind of role do you and your embassy play in promoting
relations between the two countries?
Sri Lankan Ambassador in China Karunathilake Amunugama
A: As Sri Lankan Ambassador in Beijing, I am committed to
implement President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s vision beneficial to the
The Sri Lankan Embassy and the Consulate in Shanghai and Gonghoi are
practically working round the clock. Anybody can contact us at anytime
and we are attending to whatever the needs that they require.
We have focused on tourism and trade. I asked my Commercial Division
to identify five main products that can be exported to China.
They have identified tea, rubber, gems and jewellery, coir products
and various accessories such as handicraft to be exported from Sri
Lanka. We held trade exhibitions in China and encouraged our producers
to participate in such exhibitions.
The Embassy has entered into agreements with several trade
organizations and Chambers in China to promote our products.
Q: How did you encourage gem and jewellery businessmen to
unearth major potential in the Chinese market?
A: It was a huge task to encourage the Sri Lankan gem and
jewellery traders to participate in the gem and jewellery Expo in China
three years back.
We had to provide free transport to them and find subscribed hotel
accommodation. But the situation has now changed. The Sri Lankan gems
and jewellery exports sector has grown in such a way that a minimum of
10 - 15 Sri Lankan traders can be found in any part of China at any
The Gem and Jewellery Association of China which has a number of
umbrella organizations gives special rates to Sri Lankan gem and
jewellery traders. Now we do not get involved in gem and jewellery
sector much. Sri Lankan businessmen engaged in gems and jewellery
business come to China and find a market and make money. Gems and
jewellery exports to China have grown by 100 percent during the past
Q: How do you see the Sri Lankan exports volume to China?
A: Sri Lanka is the only country which has posted a positive
increase in exports to the Chinese market during the recent global
The total value of Sri Lankan exports to China has increased from US$
35 million in 2007 to US$ 90 million last year. Our target is to
increase it to US$ 100 million by the end of this year.
The Chinese Government and different agencies in China provide many
facilities to Sri Lankan exporters. They introduced a concessionary tax
for Sri Lankan exporters. Free stalls are given to Sri Lankan exporters
to display their products.
Q: There were a number of criticisms from the part of
Opposition that large numbers of Chinese workers are being employed in
Sri Lanka. What do you have to say about that?
A: The number of Chinese workers in Sri Lanka is minimal and
they will leave the country after the projects are completed. Skilled
workers and experts for the projects such as construction of the
Hambantota Port, construction of Norochcholai coal power plant are
hardly found in the local market. The Chinese companies involved in mega
projects have vast experience in carrying out such mega projects and
they require skilled workers and experts to meet the deadlines.
These companies know that the cost would be higher if they fail in
completing the project in time.
Half of the workforce involved in the construction of the Performing
Arts Theatre in the Colombo has already left the country as the project
is nearing completion. Critics may have sometime misunderstood the
presence of a large number of Chinese in the country. Chinese tourist
arrivals have increased by 50 percent.
Q: How do you see China’s interest in Sri Lanka?
A: China’s interest in Sri Lanka as a friendly country are
very clear and genuine. China as a friendly country is interested in
seeing the country free from terrorism. It is the Chinese policy to see
a stable government in the country and ensure that Sri Lanka is on the
path of development.
China is of the view that the development of countries in the region
augurs well for stability in the region too.
Q: There was skepticism by the Opposition over the interest
shown by China in Sri Lanka?
A: Politicians, writers can write or speak anything about what
China is doing in Sri Lanka and that cannot be avoided. But China’s help
to Sri Lanka is genuinely to ensure the development of the country.
China is genuine in helping other countries in the region to achieve the
goal of development. It wants to see that other countries in the region
are also on the path of development.
Q: What is the strategy adopted by the Government to achieve
A: President Mahinda Rajapaksa has clearly outlined Sri
Lanka’s policy. The President has said that Sri Lanka has its own
interests. We always put our country first in all our dealings with
foreign countries. The President has said that the Government led by him
succeeded in eradicating terrorism and the Government now faces the war
for economic prosperity. He said the country is ready to work with any
individual or country willing to assist us.
Q: What kind of strategy do you follow to forge more closer
relations with China?
A: China is a larger country where the population exceeds 1.5
billion and most of the people are living outside Beijing. During the
past 50 years Sri Lanka interacted with Central Government officials in
Beijing. We had a Beijing based diplomacy. The provincial governments in
China are equally powerful and have the freedom to take their own
decisions. We focus on developing contacts with peripherals to bring
relations between the two countries to new heights. President Mahinda
Rajapaksa visited most number of cities in China during his official
visit to China in 2008. We opened a consulate in Shanghai in 2007 and it
is looking after the Eastern part of China. The Tourism industry is
flourishing with the record increase of tourist arrivals from Shanghaic
SriLankan Airlines opened four flights a week. A number of political and
business leaders in Shanghai visited Sri Lanka. We are participating in
the Shanghai Expo in a big way. Another office was opened in Chengdu in
the Sichuan province where the population is 90 million. Sri Lanka has
focused on developing more closer relations with Yunan province of
China. Kunming, the capital of Yunan province is only 3,000 Km away from
Colombo. The natural beauty of Sri Lanka and Yunan creates favourable
condition for closer partnership. Both this year and last year Sri Lanka
participated in South Asian Countries Trade Fair in Yunan. A number of
industries such as the tourism and leisure industries grow with the
increase of people to people contact between Sri Lanka and the provinces
in China. The Yunan government took a decision to begin flights from
Colombo to Kuming thrice a week. It augurs well for tourism in both
countries. The provincial government is confident that this novel flight
service would prosper.
Q: What do Chinese people think of Sri Lanka? What is their
A: Chinese people are very enthusiastic about Sri Lanka. They
make many enquiries about Sri Lanka and its stability after ending the
war on terrorism. All these are positive signs for consolidating more
close ties with China. Politicians, members of the business community
and intellectuals in China have started thinking of Sri Lanka. They want
to visit the country. Thy did not show much interest in visiting Sri
Lanka earlier due to terrorism and the adverse propaganda campaign
launched by the terrorists.
Q: What kind of role is the mission playing to promote Sri
Lankan products in China?
A: We met a number of importers, retailers and wholesale
traders in China. They are willing to accept Sri Lankan products. We are
promoting Sri Lanka’s immense potential in almost all fields to attract
more Chinese investment.