Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Tuesday he was eager to strengthen trade ties with Sri Lanka through the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Khan, in a remarks following his meeting with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa, said his inaugural visit was aimed at strengthening bilateral ties.
It is to strengthen our commercial ties. Pakistan is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), CPEC is one of its flagship programs, ”he said.
Khan said CPEC stands for connectivity to Central Asia.
“We also discussed other areas where we can strengthen our trade relationship where Sri Lanka can benefit from Pakistan’s connectivity in the future, to Central Asia. And our trade relationship will also mean that the two countries will come together, ”he said.
The CPEC, which connects the port of Gwadar in Balochistan to China’s Xinjiang province, is the flagship project of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious BRI.
India has severely criticized the BRI as the $ 50 billion CPEC, which is part of the BRI, crosses Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Khan and Mahinda held a one-on-one meeting at Temple Trees, the official residence of the Sri Lankan prime minister here, the Pakistani prime minister’s office said in a tweet.
The meeting was followed by delegation-level discussions between Khan and Mahinda, he said.
Khan said Pakistan is happy to help Sri Lanka fight terrorism, saying terrorism has hampered the development and growth of the island nation as a country dependent on tourism.
He said Pakistan has also suffered from terrorism and over the past 10 years tourism has dried up and hardly any investment has come to Pakistan due to the threat of terrorism.
Khan in his speech also recalled his past cricket ties with Sri Lanka, saying he was happy the country has grown into a strong cricket nation.
Khan, who is the first head of state to visit Sri Lanka since the COVID-19 pandemic, will hold meetings with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday.
He will also participate in a joint trade and investment conference aimed at promoting trade and investment between the two countries. A number of agreements aimed at strengthening bilateral cooperation will be signed during the visit.
This is Khan’s first visit to Sri Lanka after taking office in 2018. His last visit to Sri Lanka dates back to 1986, when he was captain of the Pakistani cricket team during the acrimonious series of cricket tests where he accused local referees of bias.
This is the first visit by a Pakistani Prime Minister to Sri Lanka since Nawaz Sharif visited the country in 2016.
Ahead of his visit, the Sri Lankan government last week canceled Khan’s planned speech to parliament, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
The speech in parliament is said to have been included in Khan’s itinerary at the request of the Pakistani government. The address was scheduled for February 24.
The Dawn newspaper, citing Sri Lankan media reports, said there were elements in the Sri Lankan government who did not want the speech to take place because they feared it would further damage ties with India, which have already been strained after the cancellation of an agreement on the eastern container terminal of the port of Colombo.
Khan’s visit also coincides with the ongoing controversy over the forced cremations of members of the island’s Muslim minority community who are dying from COVID-19. The government is continuing its policy of forced cremation despite objections from rights groups.
Khan praised Sri Lanka earlier this month when Prime Minister Mahinda made a comment in parliament that burials would be allowed for Muslim victims of COVID-19. However, the decision has not yet been implemented.
In an open letter to Khan, international human rights organization Amnesty International urged him to raise the issue of forced cremations with Sri Lankan leaders during his visit.
“We urge you to raise this issue of forced cremations at the highest possible level during your visit to Sri Lanka, in solidarity with a minority community that has been denied any remedy.” We urge you to call on the Sri Lankan Government to stop forced cremations and end the discrimination facing the Muslim community in Sri Lanka, the letter adds.
(Only the title and image of this report may have been reworked by Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)
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