A major new city development in Sri Lanka funded by a $1.5bn Chinese loan was officially launched this morning.
The delayed Colombo Port City project was inaugurated by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at a grand ceremony before Xi departed for India, the next leg of a south Asian tour promoting China’s vision of a new "Maritime Silk Road".
The offshore city to be built on reclaimed land opposite Colombo’s Galle Face Green seaside promenade is intended to have sport complexes, housing, offices and luxury hotels. The Sri Lankan government says it is the biggest direct foreign investment development scheme ever implemented in the country.
"The launch of theÂ project is expected to change the skyline of our city," the government stated on its official news portal, adding that it has potential to attract around $5bn in investment from all over the world.
China’s contribution to the economic growth of Sri Lanka has been unprecedented– Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa
State-owned China Harbour Engineering Company has been appointed to build the city.
Construction had been planned to start in 2011, but has been delayed.
Xi is the first Chinese leader to visit Sri Lanka in 28 years. While there, he and President Rajapaksa oversaw the signing of 27 agreements in areas including highways, a coal-fired power plant, free trade and financing for the Hambantota Hub port development project, which China Harbour Engineering is also building.
Sri Lanka also backed Xi Jinping’s vision for a "Maritime Silk Road", a string of ports facilitating sea travel between China and Europe.
"We both believe we have to make use of the opportunity brought about by the 21st century maritime Silk Road to strengthen our cooperation in such areas as port construction and development, development of coastal industrial parks, maritime economy and maritime security," Xi told the signing ceremony.
On Monday, Xi secured backing for the plan from the nearby archipelago nation of the Maldives.
Economic ties between the two countries look set to deepen as President Rajapaksa credited China with helping Sri Lanka’s recent economic good fortunes.
"China’s contribution to the economic growth of Sri Lanka has been unprecedented," he said. "Our economy is growing at 7.8% this year. The launch of negotiations for the Free Trade Agreement between Sri Lanka and China, which will commence tomorrow, will provide a more balanced and sustainable development in our bilateral trade and economic cooperation, once finalised."
Picture: Artist’s rendition of the plannedÂ Colombo Port City, in Sri Lanka (Wikimedia Commons)