By Waruna Karunatilake
COLOMBO, Oct.9 (Reuters) – China and Sri Lanka plan to resume talks on a free trade agreement, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said on Friday after a high-level meeting between the two countries.
Considered close to Beijing, Rajapaksa has appointed several members of his family to leadership positions since his party won a dominant majority in the August parliamentary elections – including his brother Mahinda, who was previously also president.
Negotiations on a free trade agreement last took place in 2017.
China has made increasingly significant inroads in South Asia with its Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to fund critical infrastructure in dozens of countries around the world.
In 2017, Sri Lanka signed control of a Chinese-funded port and landed around it in Beijing after suffering heavy losses, to the alarm of the United States and the Indian regional power.
Rajapaksa on Friday dismissed accusations that China wanted to trap Sri Lanka in growing debt with the port deal.
“Many geopolitical analyzes interpret this project as a ‘debt trap’ set up by China to take control of Sri Lankan affairs,” Rajapaksa told the Chinese delegation, led by Yang Jiechi, one of the best Chinese diplomats.
“I want to prove that this is not the case and that this large-scale project will help improve the standard of living of the populations,” he added.
The countries also agreed to deepen ties in the sectors of agriculture, education, tourism, water supply and health, according to a meeting summary released by Rajapaksa’s office.