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Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena today assured full support to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping's ambitious Maritime Silk Road project, saying it will open new era of relations between the two countries.
In his message to Xi on the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries, Sirisena said Sri Lanka is firmly dedicated to promoting its relations with China.
He said that he believed on the basis of the ancient Maritime Silk Road (MSR), the Belt and Road Initiative will open up a new era for bilateral ties.
MSR has evoked serious concerns in India as it facilitates active presence of China in the strategic Indian Ocean with security implications in India's backyard.
The project is part of One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative which also incorporates USD 46 billion China, Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar (BCIM) Economic corridor.
Sirisena's pro-China predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa was one of the first leaders in the region to come out in full support of MSR.
After his election, Sirisena who took a critical view of Chinese investments and ordered review of various China-aided projects.
With over USD eight billion debt to China, Sirisena government recently allotted 80 per cent share in the Hambantota project to a state-run Chinese firm for 99 years lease on debt swap basis.
His government's plans to allot 15000 acres of land in Hambantota for a Chinese industrial park has evoked strong protests from locals.
Sirisena has also deputed Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasingheto attend the OBOR Summit being organised by Xi in May here.
In his message to Xi, Sirisena said the friendship between Sri Lanka and China dates back to long time.
He said since the two countries established diplomatic relations 60 years ago, their ties have gained constant and sound development, which were later upgraded to a strategic partnership, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
On the occasion, Xi said that since China and Sri Lanka established diplomatic relations 60 years ago, the bilateral ties, to which he attaches great importance, have stood the test of an ever-changing international situation and achieved a healthy and smooth development.
Xi said he appreciates Sri Lanka for its active participation in the Belt and Road Initiative.
"I am willing to work with you to consolidate political mutual trust, expand mutually beneficial cooperation and deepen people-to-people friendship between the two countries, so as to inject new vigour and vitality into the China-Sri Lanka strategic cooperative partnership featuring sincere mutual assistance and enduring friendship," Xi said.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and his Sri Lankan counterpart Ranil Wickremesinghe also exchanged greetings on the occasion.
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Li in his message said that since the two countries set up formal ties in 1957, they have witnessed the sound and stable development of their relations, which have become increasingly stronger.
"In recent years, the two countries, taking the Belt and Road Initiative as an opportunity, have broadened cooperation and their relations enjoy good prospects," Li said.
China is willing to work with Sri Lanka to carry forward the traditional friendship and "deepen win-win cooperation" so that the China-Sri Lanka strategic cooperative partnership can achieve more accomplishments, Li said.
Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka-China friendship, which has continued for centuries through the ancient maritime silk road, has been further strengthened under the Belt and Road Initiative.
The initiative has also provided opportunities for the two countries to explore new areas of cooperation, the prime minister added.
Sri Lanka will work with China to continuously deepen bilateral ties and broaden cooperation for the benefit of the two peoples, Wickremesinghe said.
The Belt and Road Initiative, proposed by China in 2013, aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along ancient land and maritime trade routes.