Leaders Talk: Exclusive Interview with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena
2024-04-23 19:57

Leaders Talk: Exclusive Interview with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena

Full Video Link:https://x.com/ChinaEmbSL/status/1783320241142989147

Hon. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena gave an exclusive interview to

Leaders Talkduring his visit to China.

Climbing the Great Wall for the third time and immersing himself in China's long history, 

he hopes to share this sense of achievement with the countrymen of Sri Lanka;

going deep into the countryside of Yunnan and witnessing Chinese modernization taking

 root in the soil, he lamented that China's development has made great achievements;

from the Rubber-Rice Pact to the joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative, 

China and Sri Lanka have achieved fruitful results in more than 60 years 

since the establishment of diplomatic relations. 

He refuted the so-called "debt trap" argument in the West and said that

Sri Lanka has always respected and trusted China. 

Journalist Zou Yun from China Media Group (CMG): Prime Minister Gunawardena, it is a great pleasure to have you with us here on Leaders Talk. You visited the magnificent Great Wall that is renowned world cultural relic with history of over 2,000 years and stretches for more than 20,000 kilometers. So how do you like the trip? Is there anything memorable that you want to share with us?

Hon. Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena: When you get there, you feel that you have achieved something that is always remembered. I did the third time I've been up there. Thousands and thousands of people, not only from China, [from] across the world go up, because it gives history of China, achievements of the historical history of China, in the civilization, also a meaning through the strength that has been protected and retained by the Chinese people. And my countrymen, I hope, will also get the message that theirPrime Minister has gone up to the GreatWall.

CMG: Let's talk a little bit about something inspiring as well as the highlight of your tripthis time is your meeting with ChinesePresidentXi Jinping, while during the conversation, both sides exchange ideas on how to advance this bilateral relation, especially on advancing the strategic cooperative partnership between the two countries.What are some of your major takeaways from your meeting with President Xi?

PM: That's been a very positive and successful visit for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka-China relationship is over 60 years, and we have always stood as close friends in all issues. And China has continued to help Sri Lanka in all its challenges,on which President Xi Jinping has the confidence [that] was given to usthat future development will also follow the same path of friendship and cooperation. The President very specifically mention that our future is of new challenges.We have passedone stageand now the world is faced with new challenges. Modernization is taking place at a very fast rate. Sri Lanka hopes to modernize our differentproductive and service sectors, which can take us also fairlyon a fast growth. We discussed all these issues and the assurances are always positive. We had an opportunity of speaking to President Xi Jinping, which we appreciate, and we’ll remember continuously.

CMG: After your meeting with President Xi, what is your impression of President Xi as a leader? And how do you understand his political thoughts and philosophy?

PM: It was a very pleasant conversation, but very deep conversation. Because his words, I think, mean a lot when he speaks. So today he leads one of the greatest nations of the world. So, for all of us, we appreciate this great progress. We got this for the entire mankind.Everyone, every country can benefit from this progress, that is his deep philosophy.

CMG: As you mentioned, China and Sri Lanka are close friends and traditional, friendly neighbors, and how would you characterize this time-honored relations between the two countries?

PM: It's a long process. Our leaders have associated the leaders of China. We understand China's path. Sri Lanka signed the Rubber-RicePact amid various pressures not to. It's not only an agreement. It's a new chapter of economics. China has proved to be that it is a great nation of the world,strong, developing in all areas, all fields of today's world.

So I think Sri Lanka was very bold, straight and challenging position ongiving diplomatic recognition in 1957. Because at that time we were known as Ceylon. China accepted Sri Lanka as future progress and development[partner]. Hambantota Portat the tip of our country,beyond HambantotaPort, it is the Indian Ocean and no other country, no other island, right down to the South Pole,please remember. So Sri Lanka also look forward and develop Hambantota.

CMG: MisterPrime Minister, the projects you just mentioned, are actually relevant with another important topic that has been touched upon during your meeting with President Xi on the Belt and Road cooperation. In 2014, President Xi visited and inaugurated the landmark Colombo Port City project. And those projects has now become flashed by examples of this cooperation.During the meeting, President Xi particularly emphasizedthe high quality building of the Belt and Road cooperation between the two countries.So how do you think the quality of the Belt and Road cooperation can be further enhanced from your perspective?

PM: President Xi came to Sri Lanka and laid the foundation, but the most challenging projectSri Lanka has embarked on, that is the Colombo Port City development.Two weeks ago, we wereembarked on the construction on thefinancial center, which will play a major role in the Colombo Port City development as a financial center, a center of a new financial instruments, widespread with new challenges that is emerging in order to face call for investment. We have another strongest hubs in Southern South Asia between Singapore and the Gulf. So the major step that has been taken,we were facing difficulty after the COVID, set down, recession, took the world with going,all countries faced a recession, the world faced a recession. But China has come out of the recession strongly, and China's economy strongly moving forward means it will affect all of Asia. Asian economies can now feel we have better opportunities, markets, various ventures to move forward with China or Chinese investment.

So I think after that, Sri Lanka also has been able to progress even in deep difficulty economically, but China helped us as the first country to give the strongest support along with all of our friendly countries and institutions. Since then, Sri Lankan economy has picked up from minus.We are justreach the plus stage coming out of above zero, which gives strong confidence. In addition, our exports have been moving positively, we have also been able to relax a lot of restrictions that were before on the economy, thereby allowing the private sectorto reinvest,find new areas of investment,and for foreign investment, also to come into Sri Lanka.

CMG:President Xi during the meeting also encouraged Chinese enterprises to invest and conduct business in Sri Lanka, but also expressing hope for a fair and transparent business environment in your country.MisterPrime Minister, can you give some idea and update of the current state of business environment in Sri Lanka, especially for international investors?

PM:What Sri Lanka announced, Sri Lanka has been following. I think that trust is important. Today, studying the investment proposals they have in order to move forward with the new legislation that has been brought a lot of relaxation than before. So that the investors have confidence. And Sri Lanka wants investors that will modernize our country.

CMG: You have said in a previous interview that Sri Lanka must took off to a new stage of development, not staying on the traditional industries like tea, rubber, and coconut.So in the future, we're looking ahead, what do you think are some of the most promising new areas of cooperation between China and Sri Lanka?

PM: And the plantation economy will diversify even the private sector to participate by exports. Sri Lanka has so much that can be developed in the Agriculture Sector, a new for export, tourism still to be strengthened and developed,Sri Lankais a beautiful island, surrounded by lovely beaches from the North to the South. We need perhaps to improve our railway track and other sources, IT facilities, digital technology, important areas where we could cooperate,and that would be a new stage for Sri Lanka.

CMG: I also noticed that especially in recent years, the Sri Lankan government is placing greater emphasis on the cooperation of science and technological cooperation with China.For instance, last year when you visited Yunnan in August, you have shown a particular interest in the state of our technology supplied in the flower auction trade center in Agriculture Sector, and even asked experts about how to bring those technologies back to your home country.What fascinates you the most in this broad field of Chinese technologies? And what benefits do you think those Chinese technologies can bring to fishery, agriculture and other related fields regarding the development of Sri Lanka?

PM: Yes, we were in Yunnan province. Some of my other delegations have traveled to other provinces on invitation by China. The Agriculture Sector has done a lot of research in China. Their productivity is very high. That is one area where our farmers, our entrepreneurs can take the advantage of having hyper producing agricultural sector, new areas of investment, which can go in for exportsnot only to China, but to other markets.You all have research stations, which have been able to producehigh-yielding varieties. Representatives of Yunnan has come to Sri Lanka. We have earmarked two special provinces for this developmentthat could take place.

So the close cooperation definitely will lead to a better economic prosperity. President Xi Jinping headsChina and leads China,hisdeclared policy ofraising the lowest income population away from difficulty to better life over hundreds of million by the new policy. The policy of high-yieldingAgriculture Sectorwhich President declaredwould share with the entire world, other nations. And Sri Lanka is one that would like to cooperate, get the support to develop ouragriculture, especially rice, farming, farmers, productivity to be increased income levels to increase, cost to be reduced.All other countries are in this today's agricultural development, because food security is an important area.

CMG:So having visited the country many times and traveled extensively throughout the country from big cities to small villages, how do you understand China's path towards modernization?

PM:Managing a great nation and having growth and innovations and researchis what China has achieved in the last few years, a tremendous forward step that runs across China. Today I am in Shanghai, yesterday I was at the BoaoConference, moved down from Beijing. Two months ago, I was in Yunnan with my delegation of MembersofParliament, and public officials. We have seen the great achievements and development in all fields. So we can see the growth at every level, rural level, how the farmers have achieved better income levels, living standards, of their education and institutions ofprogress, sharing the seats with the rest of the world, allowing other countries or children to come, to know the higher education, get back implement the research they have done.So I would say it's great achievement. It has to be studied because studies will never end.

CMG: In terms of studying and learning, what kind of experiences and practices from China's modernization, you think, are helpful and valuable to the modernization journey in Sri Lanka?

PM:Sri Lanka is a small island. Our land area is small. Overall, if we take the fastest trainChina has produced, it is something for the whole world to think, public transport, lesscostly, morefaster. While these are achievements China have made by a lot of changes that have taken place within China.Alot of new investment in new areas, cooperation with other entrepreneurs from abroad, technology being brought, jointly being put into practice.Also is another aspect China has shown great understanding in working towards high objectives.

CMG: Some Western media have accused China of “luring Sri Lanka into a‘debt trap’”. I believe that you have been very familiar with accusations like this. What is your response to those media outlets?

PM: Sri Lanka, as I mentioned, all these minutes in your interview, has always respected, trusted, and committed for development with China. China’s help, assistance has been for our development. When we were in difficulty, China helped us.When our territorial integrity was being threatened, our unitary state was about to be dispersed, China stood by Sri Lanka, in order to overcome terrorism andto hold the unitary state for which all of our countrymen today.Appreciate.

CMG:MisterPrime Minister, you grew up in a family that share a very special bond with China,as both of your parents were great friends of the country. So can you share with us some of those stories and connections?

PM:We are strongly close friends of China. I would say Sri Lankans are,so my family also. Now, my father being an active Socialist working the difficult times in Europe for the Socialist Movement, Premier Zhou Enlai as a leading activist in Paris, my father also, they put their signature, asking the colonization to leave. Since then, they have had close friendship, close collaboration, being in the same movement. I mean everyone exchanges views. And after the victoryof the revolution underChairman MaoZedong, our bonds of friendship, exchanges our views, definitely would have taken place between our Socialist leaders of Sri Lanka.Delegations came soon after. My mother was in Parliament, and shewas the first President of the Sri Lanka-ChinaFriendship Association.

CMG: Prime MinisterGunawardena, you have referred to China as a true, decisive global leader and have spoken highly about China's developments in benefiting theGlobal South.Given the evolving global landscape is now filled with unprecedented challenges,how do you interpret the significance of the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative, and the Global Civilization Initiative put forward by President Xi?

PM: Each country perhaps has had something special, but all of us getting together can make an entire region, entire continent into these three areas that PresidentXi Jinping mentioned a success. It's a deep philosophy that has been announced,more than the letters of agreement, it is a deep philosophy. We understand, it is what the world needs. We don't want half of the world to be starving or another sector of the world to be dying every day because of issues in relation to land or their independence. It's a new world that we are aspiring to. Everyone wants peace. Peaceis a much more deeper form can be also achieved, strengthened and safeguarded by achieving high results of economic growthfor all.

CMG: MisterPrime Minister, it was a great pleasure and honor talking to you. Thank you so much for your time.

PM: Welcome.