Despite some kind of uneasiness in the first few months of the Sirisena Wickremesinghe regime, economic relations between China-Sri Lanka seems to be heading for a dynamic growth. All this due to a realistic reassessment of bilateral relations by both sides facilitated by an exchange of high level visits in the gone by year.
The spirit of the new era was best expressed by the visiting Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, when he averred that he felt overwhelmed by the welcome he received on his first ever visit to Lanka.
That the Lankans were serious about putting the relationship on a new footing in which trade and investment will be defining factors, was clear from the participation of Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake and Strategic Development and International Trade Minister Malik Samarwickrama, in the discussions which Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera had with Wang Yi.
Samarawickrama and Karnanayake not only discussed the existing and future Chinese aided projects, but also talked on measures to ensure that future Chinese funded projects do not suffer from the flaws seen in the earlier ones negotiated during the regime of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
While Wang Yi spoke of China’s interest in further investments in the field of infrastructure development, ports and communication, as part of its global 21st.Century Maritime Silk Road project, the Lankan Ministers expressed keenness to increase Lankan exports to China through an early conclusion of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), and to get Chinese investments to make Lanka an economic hub in the Indian Ocean.
Samaraweera said that the Lankan hub could have a conjunction with the Maritime Silk Road project, as the latter also envisages hinterland development. It is therefore certain that work on the stalled US$ 1.4 billion Chinese funded Colombo Port City will be resumed in right earnest.
While the Chinese have not been very vocal about entering into a FTA with Lanka, the Lankans are pushing for it, egged on by Colombo-based think tanks which see bright prospects for Lankan exports if the deal is well negotiated safeguarding interests of a much smaller Lankan economy.