Pakistan PM invites Sri Lanka to join China-aided economic corridor

Colombo, Feb 24 (efe-epa).- Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday invited Sri Lankan businesses to be part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project that India calls illegal amid escalating regional rivalry.

Khan concluded his two-day visit to the island aimed at strengthening bilateral ties.

“I would like to ask the business community in Sri Lanka to be a part of our CPEC project,” Khan said, addressing a business conference in Colombo.

He said the CPEC, an initiative of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious connectivity project from Kashgar in China through Pakistan to Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea, was an opportunity to access areas right up to Central Asia.

“In CPEC, we have these special economic zones which gives incentives to businesses to set up industry there,” Khan said.

Khan stressed the need for poverty alleviation in his country through the CPEC and sought to emulate China by spending much of the wealth on the “bottom half” of the population.

“China, I must say, one thing I admire about them is that no country in human history has ever taken out almost 700 million people out of poverty in 30 to 35 years,” he said.

Khan’s statement came amid elevated military tensions between China and India and their relationship with Sri Lanka.

The prime minister took a dig at India amid reports that Colombo canceled his address to Sri Lankan parliament in an attempt to not offend India days ahead of his visit.

Khan referred to the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir that has plagued their relations.

He expressed hope that trading relationships would improve by setting aside differences.

A press statement by the High Commission of Pakistan in Colombo spoke of Khan’s meeting with his Sri Lankan counterpart, Mahinda Rajapaksa, on Monday as the two leaders discussed bilateral ties.

Rajapaksa tweeted that several agreements were signed “to put into effect the bilateral discussions” and thanked Khan and his government for being a friend to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s Muslim community was hopeful of drawing attention to the forced cremation of Covid-19 victims in defiance of Islamic practices.

For months, the country’s Muslims and human rights organizations have been pressuring the government to reconsider its decision for mandatory cremation of all bodies of Covid-19 victims on religious grounds.

Amnesty International, in an open letter to Khan, urged him “to call upon the government of Sri Lanka to stop forced cremations and to bring to an end discrimination faced by the Muslim community” on the island.

A protest was also held in Colombo, coinciding with the prime minister’s visit, urging him to discuss the issue with the Sri Lankan authorities.

Muslim Council of Sri Lanka’s Vice President Hilmy Ahamed told EFE that Khan had addressed the issue privately with his counterpart.

“He didn’t say anything official, but he has taken it up privately. Making an official statement will draw huge opposition towards him,” Ahamed said. EFE-EPA


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