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Sri Lanka, China strike defence cooperation deal

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Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping in Colombo on Sept. 16, 2014. Photo: Sri Lankan Govt website

COLOMBO (PTI): Sri Lanka and China on Tuesday clinched defence and maritime security cooperation deal with Colombo pledging to support silk trade route, a pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

These were contained in a strategic cooperative partnership agreement released after the bilateral talks between Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Chinese counterpart Xi in Colombo.

China and India's southern neighbour agreed to strengthen defence cooperation and to maintain the momentum of visits between the two defence authorities and military forces at all levels.

In a joint statement after the bilateral talks, the two countries said they agreed to step up defence and marine security cooperation, and also search Sri Lankan coasts for possible wreckage of a 15th century Chinese fleet.

"The two sides agreed to strengthen defence cooperation...and to cooperate in the areas of defence-related science and technology, exchange of military academics, and provide logistic support," the joint statement said.

The two leaders said that terrorism, separatism, extremism pose a serious threat to stability and security of the region and reaffirmed their readiness to work together.

Sri Lanka also pledged to support China's proposal to build the 21st century maritime silk road and said it will actively participate and cooperate in this initiative.

The establishment of a Joint Committee on Coastal and Marine Cooperation was also announced to explore the feasibility of areas for cooperation which would include ocean observation, ecosystem protection, marine and coastal zone management, search for wreckage of Zheng He's fleets off the Coast of Sri Lanka, maritime security, combating piracy, search and rescue and navigation security.

Xi, also general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, is the first Chinese leader to visit Sri Lanka since 1986.

At least 20 bilateral agreements in the power sector, industry, sea reclamation and water supply and several other areas of engagement running into multi-billion-dollar investments are to be signed during Xi's two-day visit.

The two sides are also set to sign a deal for the construction of a Beijing-funded USD 1.4 billion port city in Hambantota, the home constituency of Rajapaksa.

Xi will launch the construction of the port city, which will include the country's first Formula One track, on Thursday.

Since the advent of Rajapaksa's presidency, China has become Sri Lanka's largest development partner with projects varying from airports, sea ports, road infrastructure and power generation.

China is Sri Lanka's second largest trade partner and second largest source of imports. In 2013, China became Sri Lanka's largest investor and bilateral trade reached USD 3.62 billion.

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