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Sri Lankan leader likely to discuss Chinese project on visit

Sri Lankan leader likely to discuss suspended Chinese port city project on visit to Beijing

Sri Lankan leader likely to discuss Chinese project on visit

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) -- Sri Lanka's president was to hold talks with the Chinese president on a trip to Beijing that appeared to be aimed at balancing his nation's relations with China and India, which are competing for influence in the Indian Ocean region.

Since Maithripala Sirisena was elected in January, Sri Lanka has been seen as trying to extricate itself from the heavily pro-China policies followed by his predecessor.

The president chose India for his first official visit, and this month Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first Indian head of state to visit neighboring Sri Lanka in 28 years.

Sirisena left on Wednesday for an expected four-day visit. His office said in a statement that he would hold talks with President Xi Jinping and other officials on enhancing cooperation in trade, investment and regional and international affairs, including a China-Sri Lanka free trade agreement.

The two sides are also likely to discuss a $1.5 billion China-funded port city project in Colombo which Sirisena's government has suspended pending scrutiny on environment impacts and alleged corruption.

The possibility of China having outright ownership of part of the artificial land on which the city is to be built had made India nervous and the project's suspension has made China-Sri Lanka relations uneasy.

Backed by a major Chinese state-owned company -- China Communications Construction Company-- the port city was to include a golf course, marinas, apartments, hotels and malls and came to be viewed as the face of Chinese influence in Sri Lanka. It was inaugurated last September during a visit by Xi. It is the single largest foreign direct investment in Sri Lanka.

However, last week, Sri Lanka government allowed the Chinese firm to commence protective work on the breakwater of the project after the complaints from the firm that the suspension has damaged 200 meters of the breakwater and that it is losing $380,000 per day due to the suspension.

Sirisena's administration has also ordered review of all China-funded projects.

China and Sri Lanka have enjoyed long traditional ties and China was a trusted supplier of weapons in Sri Lanka's fight against ethnic Tamil separatism. China also backed Sri Lanka against allegations at the United Nations of human rights abuses in the civil war.

In his visit last year, Xi won support from Sri Lanka and neighboring Maldives for a new maritime "Silk Road," which was seen as a way of encircling India and controlling port access along sea lanes linking the energy-rich Persian Gulf and economic centers in eastern China.

Updated : 2021-09-27 15:05 GMT+08:00