Considering the importance of Friendship and Cooperation with China, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa named Former Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona as Envoy to Beijing as such an experienced high-ranking Diplomat would certain to give the much-needed fillip to bilateral relations with the Asian giant.
“My priority would be to change this lethargic and unprofessional attitude and have a structured approach that will allow not only Sri Lankan business to flourish in China but a wider spectrum of Sri Lankan products to move to the shelves of Chinese supermarkets,” the Ambassador-designate told media.
Dr Kohona is the right man to give a boost to Chinese investments in Sri Lanka as he is capable of ‘out of the box thinking’ enunciated by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
During his meeting with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi after assuming office, President Rajapaksa said Sri Lanka has attached utmost importance to developing ties with China as it is a trustworthy and long-term cooperative partner of Sri Lanka. He expressed gratitude to China for its support for Sri Lanka’s socio-economic development.
During the meeting, both sides pledged to further promote relations between the two countries. The President added that Colombo is ready to enhance Sri Lanka-China ties, strengthen bilateral win-win cooperation in various fields and actively promote the joint development of the Belt & Road Initiative to build regional Shipping and Logistic Hubs.
It is a fact that sufficient efforts have not been made to attract investments from China. Dr Kohona, known as an outspoken diplomat lamented Sri Lanka is yet to put across a serious business proposal to reap economic benefits from China.
“See Sri Lanka’s export catalog to China, it’s still the traditional tea and few products. This is absurd and I have to ask what the authorities were doing not to include more products from Sri Lanka to the Chinese Market. I want to create opportunities and not deals that usually don’t work,” the New Ambassador designate said.
He added that more Chinese companies should come to invest and do business in Sri Lanka and that aspect too would be pursued in a very professional manner. “For all this Sri Lanka must have a professional team stationed in Beijing who will firstly make Sri Lanka and then Sri Lankan products and businesses known to the Chinese. They will also display what investment opportunities that are available in Sri Lanka especially like the Colombo Port City.”
Dr Kohona expressed disappointment in the manner in which Colombo Port City Marketing is taking place. See its languishing for the past year virtually unknown to China and also the world. The same should be said about Colombo, Hambantota, and Trincomalee harbors that are ‘just there’ without talking! “We must project them to the world saying that there are places where global businessmen can earn money.”
“Sri Lanka has to create awareness to the global business community which we have not done. One of the ideal tools to market Sri Lanka globally is the success the country achieved in controlling the COVID19 pandemic. Sadly in global rankings, Lankan successful efforts are played down even below India, where there are nearly 80,000 deaths. We are the best in the world but have not marketed this,” Dr. Kohona lamented.
Meanwhile, State Minister of Regional Cooperation Tharaka Balasuriya said the Sri Lankan government welcomes investments from China and will ensure that such investments are well protected, according to a statement from the Chinese Embassy said. Chargé d’affaires of the Chinese Embassy Hu Wei invited the State Minister together with a big team of senior diplomats from the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry for a field visit to the Lotus Tower and the Colombo Port City.
The Colombo Port City is the biggest ever foreign direct investment project in Sri Lankan history, which will attract $13 billion further investment, create 83,000 jobs, and become the island’s new developing engine. This will no doubt transform the landscape of Colombo and Sri Lanka.
We are very optimistic and we want to work in partnership with the Chinese, Minister Balasuriya said. After a breathtaking bird-view of the grand Colombo area and all the mega projects from the 356-meter high Lotus Tower, which is the highest in South Asia, the delegation headed towards the Colombo Port City and inspected the first marina of the country, the first artificial golden beach in downtown Colombo as well as the advance multimedia gallery.
As Dr. Kohona told media, Sri Lanka can also launch a program for not only businessmen but also tech-savvy young or people with special skills who are sick of living in Western countries to live and start their businesses in Sri Lanka. “However this should be done carefully and they too should bring sizable investment.”
In addition, a conducive hazel free environment should be created such as allowing them to bring their assets a duty-free car for them to start their business and life in Sri Lanka. “This is not rocket science as other countries in the region like Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand are successfully doing this.”
He also said that he will study the proposed FTA with China but will have clauses where it favors Sri Lanka as done by India when negotiating trade deals. “I don’t know what Sri Lanka negotiators were doing at the table.”
He also questioned the rationale of the tourist board targeting and promoting high-end tourists who are ‘dead’ scared to travel now. “The Board should look and woo the younger generation who are looking for places to surf, kayak and ect.”
China is 99% free of COVID and it may be a good idea to look at this market. “Taking PCR tests regularly is fair enough but there should be minimal restrictions when they travel to Sri Lanka,’ new Ambassador to China stressed.