Chinese president to launch port city in Sri Lanka

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping was stopping in Sri Lanka on Tuesday to help launch a new port city project funded by his government.

The first Chinese leader to visit Sri Lanka in 28 years, Xi was welcomed at the airport by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The two are expected to oversee the signing of up to 20 agreements, including one for a new coal power plant.

The Chinese leader is visiting countries in the region to seek closer ties and support for his vision of a modern maritime "Silk Road" — a sea route connecting China with Europe. On Monday, Xi secured backing from the nearby archipelago nation of the Maldives.

In Sri Lanka, Xi was helping to launch Colombo Port City, being constructed on an artificial island off the capital with a reported $1.3 billion in Chinese loans. Earlier Chinese investment in the south-coast port of Hambantota had led many to speculate Sri Lanka is meant to be a key stop along the so-called maritime Silk Road.

"I believe that the ship of Chine-Sri Lanka friendship and cooperation is bound to brave the wind and waves along the magnificent 21st Century Maritime Silk Road to pursue the dream of national development," Xi said in a piece published by Sri Lanka's state-run Daily News.

China has become Sri Lanka's largest lender in recent years, providing more than $ 6 billion through September 2013 for port facilities, highways and a new international airport.

China was also a reliable and speedy supplier of weapons during Sri Lanka's 27-year civil war that ended in 2009 with ethnic Tamil separatists routed, and has consistently defended the Indian Ocean island nation from allegations of wartime human rights abuses and calls for a U.N. investigation into war crimes. Xi reiterated that support on Tuesday.

"China firmly supports Sri Lanka in choosing a development path suited to its national conditions ... and resolutely opposes any move by any country to interfere in Sri Lanka's internal affairs under any excuse," Xi said in the Daily News.