China moots trilateral cooperation with India, Sri Lanka

China on Friday proposed trilateral cooperation involving India and Sri Lanka for regional stability as the new government in Colombo sought to re-balance its ties with China, preferring to follow a "non-aligned" policy.

PTI| Updated: Feb 27, 2015, 18:08 PM IST

Beijing: China on Friday proposed trilateral cooperation involving India and Sri Lanka for regional stability as the new government in Colombo sought to re-balance its ties with China, preferring to follow a "non-aligned" policy.

"China is open-minded about trilateral cooperation between China, India (and) Sri Lanka," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during a joint press conference with Sri Lankan counterpart Mangala Samaraweera.

"I want to say both India and Sri Lanka are China's cooperative partners in South Asia," Wang said.

Samaraweera is the first Sri Lankan official to visit Beijing since president Mahinda Rajapaksa's defeat in polls this January. China made significant investments in Sri Lanka during Rajapaksa's tenure, raising concerns in India.

Samaraweera's visit to China will be followed by new Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena's next month.

The two ministers had a lengthy talk focussed on the new political alignment in Sri Lanka following the fall of the Rajapaksa government.

Samwarweera, however, did not comment on the trilateral proposal by China.

Wang said China wants progress in relations between all three countries, including ties between New Delhi and Colombo.

"The relevant parties may continue to explore discussions about such cooperation in future to think about what are practical ways and means in pursing such cooperation," Wang said.

"We believe that China and India may leverage their respective strength in playing a positive role in helping Sri Lanka advance its social development," he said.

"I believe sounder interaction and pursuit of common interests among the three countries is in the best interest of the three countries and also in best interest of regional peace, stability and prosperity," Wang replied to a question.

He also said China and India stay in contact over a large number of regional and global issues.

"We would certainly like to have consultations with the Indian side regarding pursing trilateral cooperation in future or cooperation involving more parties," Wang said.

Describing India as a neighbour and a relative, and China a close friend, Samaraweera said his government prefers to follow a "non-aligned policy with good relations with all the countries in the interest of the Sri Lankan people."

Wang, for his part, spoke about the support extended by the Rajapaksa government for the revival of the multi-billion dollar ancient Maritime Silk Road (MSR) proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The MSR brought China and Sri Lanka close several hundred years ago and served as an important bond connecting the two peoples, Wang said.

"Our endeavour is to revitalise (the) MSR to embrace the sprit of silk road of peace, friend ship and cooperation" and work with work with all relevant countries to pursue common development, he said.

He acknowledged that Sri Lanka was the first country to express support to the MSR.

Samaraweera said: "We have had historic links and historically brought many benefits. The Sri Lankan government is keen to pursue the 21st?century MSR and our new government will also be discussing further on these matters."

China's Silk Road projects involved a maze of roads and ports connecting Asia, Europe and Africa. Xi has already announced USD 40 billion fund to further the projects.

India, invited to take part in the Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar (BCIM) road and the MSR projects, has said it will give a selective backing for the initiative.

While India is taking part in the meetings for BCIM, it is yet to give its response on MSR.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during her visit here this month said India will not provide any blanket endorsement for the Silk Road plans.

India will look into its interests. Where ever interests converge India will, but no blanket support, she said.

China's other Silk Road projects include a road connecting China to Europe through Central Asia and the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor being built through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).