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Sri Lankan Newspaper Ceylon Today published interview with Political Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission Ren Faqiang of Chinese Embassy

Sri Lankan Newspaper Ceylon Today published interview with Political Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission Ren Faqiang of Chinese Embassy

Sri Lankan newspaper Ceylon Today published the interview with Ren Faqiang,Deputy Head of Mission of Chinese Embassy on Sunday, June 16.Its Sinhalese newspaper also publish the translated version. The Full text of the interview is following:

Ceylon Today "News Features"

"Time has proved China a true friend"

(by Ranga Jayasuriya)

In a candid interview with Ceylon Today, Deputy Head of the Mission of Chinese Embassy Ren Faqiang spoke extensively about China's relations with Sri Lanka and its role in the region.

The recently agreed strategic cooperation partnership between Beijing and Colombo is a normal practice and not targeted at any other country, he maintained."Time has proved and will continue to prove that China is a sincere, constructive and responsible partner of this region, acting with goodwill toward its neighbours," he said.

Faqiang responded to questions ranging from Chinese loans, the Hambantota port and why China believes that Sri Lanka should be given more time and space to heal the wounds of the ethnic conflict by itself.

Q:During the recent visit by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Beijing, he and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to upgrade the bilateral relationship to a 'strategic cooperation partnership.' Can you explain the scope of the newly agreed upon 'strategic cooperation partnership'?

A: China has strategic cooperation partnerships with many countries, including India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. China and Sri Lanka are good neighbours, good friends and good partners. So, it is only natural for our two countries to upgrade bilateral relationship to strategic level. The full definition of this relationship is 'strategic cooperation partnership of sincere mutual assistance and everlasting friendship.' Just as mentioned in the Joint Communique between China and Sri Lanka, issued during President Rajapaksa's recent State visit to China, our two countries will strengthen political mutual trust, deepen economic and trade cooperation, enhance people-to-people friendship, and seek common development.

Q:As we understand, there is a military element, such as defence cooperation. Can you elaborate?

A: Military exchanges are a normal part of any bilateral relationship of countries in the world. China keeps military ties with many countries, including Sri Lanka. It is common for China and Sri Lanka to develop military exchanges and cooperation.

Q:China is Sri Lanka's main source of development assistance. This status would be further boosted by recent pledges amounting to US$ 2.2 billion in loans, announced during President Rajapaksa's visit to Beijing. Can you explain on which specific projects these recently pledged funds would be spent?

A: As a constructive partner, China will, within its limits, continue to provide grants and loans to Sri Lanka. It is the Sri Lankan Government that makes decisions on what projects these loans are to be spent. It is believed that quite a few projects are focused on infrastructure construction area such as railway, expressway, and so forth, which is of great importance for Sri Lanka's long-term economic and social development.

Q:The government's External Resources Department says in its latest report that China has provided little over US$ 5 billion since 1971 until 2012, in loans and grants. Of which 94% has been issued during the period from 2005 to 2012. Can you explain why?

A: Firstly, 10 years ago, China did not have enough funds and ability to help other developing countries as we have today. With the advancement of its own economy, China can provide more loans in recent years. Secondly, the value changes of currency in the past decades also contribute to the figures. One dollar in 1960s is much more in value than a dollar today. So, those figures could not be compared that way.

Q:This week, the government informed Parliament that during the last five years, 25,000 Chinese workers have been deployed in Sri Lanka to work in China-funded projects. Why do you need Chinese workers? Have the Chinese companies hired any Sri Lankan nationals?

A: Chinese companies not only help Sri Lanka building many necessary infrastructure projects, but also create a large number of job opportunities to the local people, as well as brought new construction technologies to this country. You can see that in many projects, Sri Lankan and Chinese managers, engineers and workers are working shoulder-to-shoulder, and the percentage of local workers in many projects are above 80%. Taking the newly completed A9 highway reconstruction project as an example, during its two and a half years construction period, it hired over 4,000 local people, including Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. Chinese managers, engineers and technicians are less than 100. A few days ago, I visited Colombo-Katunayake Expressway and saw Sri Lankan technical workers learning from their Chinese counterparts on operating advanced machinery. They value the opportunity.

Q:China has funded the port in Hambantota. Some observers raised concerns there may be military objectives underpinning this particular investment. One would doubt that it is purely a commercial project. Any comments?

A: This harbour is initiated and operated by the Sri Lankan side. It is only constructed by a Chinese company according to the contract and once it was completed, it was handed over to Sri Lankan side for operation. Just as Sri Lankan side pointed, it is a commercial harbour, open to the world and benefits all. Sri Lankan friends told me that they are proud to have a brand new deep water harbour just two and half years after the internal conflict ended. One thing I would like to mention is that among the engineers and workers who built the harbour, the majority are Sri Lankans. The job opportunities created by the project is evident.

Q:The Chinese naval power is growing and China is making inroads to the Indian Ocean. Do you want to challenge the status quo in the region?

A: Indian Ocean is a major international sea route, which is of significance to all countries in the world. Ensuring the security of the sea lanes and combating piracy in high sea is in the common interest of, and a common mission shared by, all countries including China. Many Chinese commercial ships come and go along the Indian Ocean. Like some other countries, the Chinese naval ships have also carried out escort missions off the Coast of Somalia and in the Aden Gulf. We will continue to join hands with the international community in the efforts to ensure the security of the important sea route.

Q:With the Chinese share in development and economic assistance in Sri Lanka increasing, does Beijing want to broaden its influence here? Is China trying to undermine India's position in Sri Lanka?

A: China's development assistance to Sri Lanka is purely for the common development purpose. We have no intention to exert influence on Sri Lanka; neither do we target any third party.

Q:China is generally known for its no-strings-attached development aid. You have given no-strings-attached loans to some governments with questionable human rights records. There are some controversies over this. What is your


A: China never links development aid with other countries' internal affairs and that may be the reason why we are welcomed by a majority of developing nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In some countries, the amount of our development assistance may not be the largest, but we are regarded as a true and trusted friend. We believe that internal affairs of a country should be determined by its own people and international affairs should be conducted through consultation and negotiation by all the countries concerned.

Q: What is China's position on international calls for investigation into alleged human rights abuses that took place during Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict?

A: We believe the Sri Lankan people and government have wisdom to solve their own problems and the international community should give Sri Lanka more time and space in this regard. We are happy to see that in the past four years, under the leadership of President Rajapaksa, Sri Lankan people have achieved a lot of progress in reconstruction and economic and social development.

Q:China is not a democracy in its classical definition and that may worry observers as its economic and political clout grows, particularly as it is set to be a dominant power in this century. What's your comment?

A: Democracy does not have only one model. World is like a garden. A garden with only one kind of flower is boring. A garden with a variety of flowers is attractive and beautiful. We should respect the rights of countries to choose their own roads to development and democratic models according to their own national conditions. Socialism with Chinese characteristics is the development road chosen by the Chinese people. We cherish our socialist democracy. In China, the President is elected by the deputies of National People's Congress, our Parliament. Elections are also held to choose village leaders. This system may not suit others, but is suitable for China.

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