BEIJING, May 16 (Reuters) - Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday that he welcomed increased Chinese investment in Sri Lanka’s major infrastructure projects, Chinese state media said.
China signed a deal with Sri Lanka late last year to further develop the strategic port of Hambantota and build a huge industrial zone nearby, a key part of Xi’s signature economic and foreign policy to create a modern-day “Silk Road” across Asia, Europe and Africa.
But amid concern over increasing Chinese investment, hundreds of Sri Lankans clashed with police at the industrial zone’s opening in January.
Meeting Xi in Beijing after attending China’s Belt and Road Forum on Sunday and Monday, Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka was willing to work with China to “successfully push forward” the Hambantota and Colombo Port City projects, according to official Chinese news agency Xinhua.
Xi said the construction of a China-Sri Lanka free trade zone would prove a key starting point in promoting fair and sustainable development in bilateral trade, accelerate ease of investment and realise the unimpeded flow of trade and capital.
Major projects with Sri Lanka should act as precursors for driving infrastructure connectivity and maritime and aviation cooperation, Xi added, according to Xinhua’s report.
Sri Lanka aims to finalise a free trade agreement with China this year, their 65th anniversary year of trade relations. (Reporting by Philip Wen; Editing by Nick Macfie)