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Chinese Defence Minister arrives in Sri Lanka for bilateral talks

COLOMBO (PTI): China's Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe arrived in Colombo on a two-day visit for bilateral talks with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

Gen. Wei, who landed on a Chinese military aircraft, was received at the Colombo international airport by Sri Lanka Army's Commander Gen. Shavendra Silva.

The Chinese minister will hold bilateral talks with President Gotabaya and his brother and Prime Minister Mahinda.

Gen. Wei is the second high-ranking Chinese official to visit the island nation after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In October last year, Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs of the ruling Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi visited Colombo.

The Chinese Defence Minister's visit assumes significance in the backdrop of a public diplomacy campaign launched by the Chinese embassy on the Chinese-built Port City in Colombo.

Last week, Sri Lanka's Supreme Court heard petitions on the constitutionality of the administrative body of the Port City built on reclaimed sea.

The Port City commission bill was challenged by the Opposition parties and civil society groups over its constitutionality. They want the bill to be subject to a referendum and a special two thirds mandate in Parliament.

The five-member bench of the Supreme Court handed over its determination to Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena after a 5-day hearing. It will be announced in Parliament next week, officials said.

The US$ 1.4 billion project, which has been exempted from a series of local laws, has come under severe criticism from the Opposition parties, civil society groups and labour unions which allege that the project violated the country's sovereignty, the Constitution and labour rights.

The Colombo Port City project, expected to play a key role in China's ambitious 'Maritime Silk Road' project in India's backyard, is said to be the single largest private sector development ever in the island.

Sri Lanka in recent years carried out various development projects with an estimated US$ eight billion loans.

The huge Chinese loans sparked concerns globally after Sri Lanka handed over the Hambantota port to China in 2017 as debt swap amounting to US$ 1.2 billion for a 99 years' lease.

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