Foreign Relations | Speeches

China-Sri Lanka Relations

Banquet in Honor of His Excellency Premier Zhu Rongji

Colombo, Sri Lanka

May 17, 2001

Your Excellency Premier Zhu Rongji,

Madam Lao An

Distinguished Guests from the People's Republic of China, Your Excellency Prime Minister Wickramanayake,

Your Excellencies the Ministers,

Your Excellencies of the Diplomatic Corps, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to welcome Your Excellency, Madam Lao An and your delegation to Sri Lanka. Although there has been a constant flow of visits by senior leaders of your country to Sri Lanka, it is more than a decade since Sri Lanka has had the privilege of hosting visit by a Premier of China. We are, therefore, particularly honoured by your gracious presence with us today.

The historical relationship between China and Sri Lanka dates back to the early centuries of the Christian era, and was based on shared religious and cultural values, The visit to Sri Lanka in the 5th, Century A.C. by the famous Chinese Buddhist pilgrim and scholar, Fa Hsien, to study Buddhist scriptures was no doubt the most important landmark of our cultural relations. Bhikkhunis from Sri Lanka were responsible for the establishment of an Order of Buddhist Nuns in China. The strategic location of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean made it, in later years, an entrepôt of sea trade where merchants from the East including China, traded with merchants of the West in Sri Lanka. A Chinese Admiral, Cheng Ho, undertook an expedition to this country in the 15th century. Our relations with China, political, cultural and commercial, continued uninterrupted until Sri Lanka came under foreign domination in the 16th century.

Since the end of the colonial era, the ties between our two countries have developed into a durable and friendly relationship that involves all facets of our day-to-day lives. In January 1950, Sri Lanka extended full diplomatic recognition to the People's Republic of China. Adherence the 'One China Policy' has been a consistent feature in our foreign policy ever since, irrespective of the Government that was in power in Sri Lanka. It is a matter of deep pride to my country and to our people that not withstanding the strong opposition from certain quarters, Sri Lanka entered into the historic Rubber - Rice Agreement with China in December 1951.

Diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China and resident embassies in each other's capital were established in 1957 under-the -Premiership of my father, Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who brought out a revolutionary change in Sri Lanka's foreign policy. I still have fond memories of my meeting with the late Premier Chou Enlai in the company of my parents when he first visited Sri Lanka in 1957. My mother, former Prime Minister Sirimavo R.D. Bandaranaike, consolidated this new foreign policy by promoting and pursuing Non Alignment. She was also largely responsible for further strengthening our relations with China, to the point where our countries now enjoy a special relationship.

I have had the good fortune of visiting your country on a few occasions, in various capacities. My first visit to your country in 1974, as to lead a delegation of the Land Reforms; Commission, when we visited numerous cities and villages studying the economic, agrarian and political structures of Communist China. We were deeply moved by the warm hospitality extended to us and by the banquet given to us at the Great People's Hall by the Minister for Agriculture, Mr. Hua Guo Feng, who later became Premier of China. An equally warm and friendly welcome awaited us during my State visit to China in 1996.

Sri Lanka remains deeply grateful to the People's Republic of China for its continued support for our development efforts over the past several decades. The Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH), the Superior Courts Complex and the Central Mail Exchange are monuments to the generosity and goodwill the Chinese people have shown towards Sri Lanka.

Our country has benefited from other development projects funded by China such as Gin Ganga Flood Protection Scheme as well as the numerous technical and cultural co-operation programmes, that has made it possible for numerous students, academics and artisans from both countries to savour the richness of each other's culture. I am very happy that Your Excellency will participate tomorrow in the ground breaking ceremony of another project, Sirimavo Bandaranaike Memorial International Exhibition Hall, dedicated to the memory of my mother.

Today, the People's Republic of China has one of the fastest growing and dynamic economies of the world. We, particularly, marvel at China's achievements in the field of science and technology, which would undoubtedly help to uplift the conditions of the masses not only in China but also throughout the developing world.

Sri Lanka has followed with keen interest, the pragmatic economic policies of the People's Republic of China since the early 1980's and the resultant rapid economic development. We have been particularly impressed by China's ability to weather the Asian financial crisis. We have, in recent months also carefully followed the programme unveiled by Your Excellency before the National People's Congress on the 'Tenth Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development'. We have noted the increase of GDP by an average annual rate of 8.3 percent during the Ninth Five - Year Plan and the strategy unveiled by Your Excellency in March for doubling the 2000 GDP over the next ten years. The steps taken by China to restructure state-owned enterprises and the encouragement given to the non-state sector enterprises provide many lessons for us. This policy has boosted China's foreign trade considerably and has resulted in the accumulation of a robust foreign reserve.

I am also happy to note the tremendous feats accomplished by China in attracting and harnessing foreign direct investment of almost $ 290 billion during the last five years. As was the case in Sri Lanka, China's economy was liberalised in the early 1980's with incentives to attract foreign investment. I recall the tour of His Excellency Jiang Zemin in September 1980, to several countries, including Sri Lanka, in China's quest for a proper model in her liberalisation effort. Perhaps, now it is our turn to learn from China's successful experiment and achievements.

It is also heartening to note the encouragement given by China to its public and private sectors, to engage in trade and investment abroad. I am confident that Chinese investors would pay heed to Your Excellency's call and consider profiting from the excellent investment climate prevailing in Sri Lanka. Potential areas for future economic assistance and co-operation have already been identified during the 3rd Session the Sri Lanka-China Joint Committee on Economic and Trade operation. I am also confident that China would also facilitate and encourage it's people to visit our beautiful island and enjoy our hospitality. We, in Sri Lanka, are proud to have eight World Heritage Sites within a compact area of 65,000 square kilometres. The enhancement tourism between our two countries would also contribute significantly to narrowing the considerable trade imbalance between China and Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka views with great satisfaction the recent initiatives taker the People's Republic of China to strengthen relations with all count in the South Asian region, which for over two thousand years have interacted closely with the peoples of China. This has resulted in enrichment of our respective societies in many spheres. Your Excellency's visits to the Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan, will no doubt contribute significantly to consolidating these ties. As the Chairman of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) since 1998, Sri Lanka has been deeply committed to moving South Asia forward to revitalise the organisation. After a period of inactivity, we have been able to arrange for a Special Session of the SAARC Stand Committee to take place in Colombo next month.

Coming from a country, which has stood steadfast by Sri Lanka over two millennia, Your Excellency's visit to Colombo comes at a time when Sri Lanka stands at the crossroads of its modern history. You are no doubt familiar with the causes and consequences of Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict and the ramifications of the terroristic dimension of that conflict over the last two decades. This has had a significant impact on the economy and polity of Sri Lanka. My Government worked hard at implementing a multi-pronged strategy aimed at ending the armed conflict and restoring peace in Sri Lanka. Today, there is a glimmer of hope that we might soon witness the dawn of peace.

Your Excellency, in the annals of diplomatic history, the Sri Lanka China relationship must surely figure prominently as one of the oldest and most enduring associations between two nations, although separated from each other by a great distance and are so disparate in size, population, resources and influence. Our relationship has-not only been devoid of any bilateral irritants or tensions, but also our two countries have been steadfast in each other's hour of need. For Sri Lanka, the People's Republic of China has been, and I am confident will always be, a "true friend".