Looking beyond the current difficulties in reviving a stalled multi-billion dollar project, Sri Lanka and China are now defining a new blueprint, based on rapid infrastructure development, to rail their growing ties for the future.
“Our visit today is an important visit because it will discuss and finalise the framework of future cooperation between our two countries,” said visiting Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in his opening remarks during talks with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang on Thursday.
On Friday, Mr. Wickremesinghe called on Chinese President Xi Jinping. Following talks with Prime Minister Li, both countries affirmed that the $1.4 billion Colombo Port City project had their support, but “technical details” needed to be ironed out before construction could resume.
“On the Colombo port, both sides agreed to further speed up the overall and comprehensive resumption of work on this project. The announcement to resume the work has been made by the Sri Lankan side, but now we will go into further technical details,” said Xiao Qian, head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Asia Department, in a brief interaction with the media.
“This is an important project and both countries have a strong desire to further enhance and advance this project. On the Chinese side, we hope to see the earliest possible resumption. We believe we won’t have to wait too long.”
Chinese officials also made it plain that they were now engaged in a dialogue with the Sri Lankans to carve out a new plan that will steer Beijing-Colombo ties.
The opportunity to advance the relationship has arisen following the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war and China’s adoption of its 13th five-year plan along with its Going Abroad strategy.
Ahead of his visit, Mr. Wickremesinghe has pledged that his government would generate one million jobs in five years, mainly based on foreign investments from China, Japan, Singapore, India and European countries.
In tune with Colombo’s aspirations, the two Prime Ministers agreed to prioritise the construction of an industrial park at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port. Xinhua quoted Prime Minister Li as saying Chinese companies would be encouraged to develop industrial parks, special economic zones, and engage in the processing and manufacturing sector in Sri Lanka.
The two countries will also concentrate on the construction of ports, airports, roads and railways along with fostering a stronger collaboration in the fields of finance, science and technology and culture.
The focus on infrastructure has resulted in the signing of a preferential buyer credit loan agreement for the construction of an extension of section two of the Southern Highway.
The Southern Highway is a 126km-long expressway that runs from Colombo to Matara on the southern coast of the island.
Both sides have also agreed to advance their FTA negotiations, with the year-end as the target to achieve tangible results.
During his stay, Mr. Wickremesinghe is slated to meet representatives of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) — the 57-member lender which has been geared to develop infrastructure along the Asian leg of the Belt and Road, China’s giant oceanic and land connectivity project.
Previously, officials from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have expressed their willingness to co-finance projects with the AIIB in Sri Lanka. Mr. Wickremesinghe has already met Liu Liange Liange, the head of the China’s powerful Export Import (EXIM) Bank.
Chinese officials said Sri Lanka is “very willing” to participate in China’s Belt and Road initiative so as to re-establish Sri Lanka’s position as the trade hub in the Indian Ocean.
On the political side, Sri Lanka’s United National Party is set to reinforce ties with Communist Party of China following Mr. Wickremesinghe’s talks with Song Tao, the Minister of the CPC’s International Department. (The Hindu)