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Zhao Leji, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, speaks at the opening ceremony of Boao Forum of Asia, in Boao in southern China’s Hainan province on March 28, 2024.

Zhao Leji, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, speaks at the opening ceremony of Boao Forum of Asia, in Boao in southern China’s Hainan province on March 28, 2024.
| Photo Credit: AP

China’s top legislator Zhao Leji on March 28 said that Asia has endured both “hot and cold” wars and they should prevent the world from becoming an arena for “geopolitical fighting” and welcomed all countries to board China’s “express train” of development.

Mr. Zhao, Chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, was speaking at the opening session of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference 2024, an international organisation of 29 member states, including many leaders from Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) countries such as Sri Lanka.

Also Read | All eyes are now on the Indian Ocean region

Speaking at the same session, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dinesh Gunewardane, said that Sri Lanka’s port development has taken a new turn of “advanced” development with the assistance of China and it will “change the present scenario”.

A day earlier, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister had said that China has pledged to develop the island nation’s strategic deep sea port and the capital’s airport after talks with his counterpart in Beijing, according to AFP.

“Colombo port will become a hub of a newly developed port with financial instruments that could cater to the new demands that are growing among ourselves, among our countries, for development and investment, which is essential. This will change the present scenario from East Asia to East Africa, and the blue seas that we all could work together for the future that we face in a successful and a great joint program are what we look forward to,” Mr. Gunawardena said on March 28.

Sri Lanka’s southern sea port of Hambantota was handed to a Chinese state-owned company in 2017 on a 99-year lease for $1.12 billion. India and the U.S. are both concerned that a Chinese foothold at the port could boost China’s naval advantage in the Indian Ocean.

In December 2023, amid repeated messages from New Delhi, Colombo announced a year-long moratorium on foreign research vessels visiting Sri Lankan waters.

Walk together

Mr. Zhao said that Asian countries have the fine tradition of helping each other out in trying times and they have overcome one difficulty after another on their paths to development.

“Now in a phase of clamours for division and confrontation, it is essential that we stay independent, seek strength through unity, and continue to walk side by side with each other. (We should) jointly oppose unilateralism and self-serving practices, oppose picking sides and bloc confrontation and prevent this region and the world from becoming an arena for geopolitical fighting,” he said.

Mr. Zhao called on all countries to transcend the “old mentality” of bloc confrontation and zero-sum games and practice genuine multilateralism to jointly build an open world economy. “We must oppose trade protectionism and all forms of erecting barriers, decoupling, or severing of supply chains,” he said.

Mr. Zhao said that people in Asia have endured both hot and cold wars, as well as hardships and tribulations, leading them to deeply cherish the value of peace. He added that China will make it more convenient for foreigners to work, study, and travel in China.

The BFA, which concluded on Friday, was held in Hainan — the southern most and the only tropical island province of China — in the South China Sea, not very far from Philippines, amidst an ongoing tension between both the countries.

(The correspondent attended the Boao Forum for Asia at the invitation of the China Public Diplomacy Association)

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