Sri Lanka will leverage its strategic location and connectivity to become the hub of the Indian Ocean, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said at the recently-concluded Belt and Road Forum in Beijing.
“The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will provide the much needed hard and soft connectivity in the Indian Ocean required for rapid economic and social development,” he said, days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi concluded his visit to the island.
Big powers’ interest
It is Sri Lanka’s location in the Indian ocean that draws bigger powers like India and China, looking for a strategic advantage not just for trade but also for security.
In his address in Beijing, Mr. Wickremesinghe pointed to the various Chinese-funded projects in Sri Lanka, such as the Hambantota Port, Mattala airport and the southern expressway, and said the BRI
complemented the island nation’s efforts to build advanced infrastructure.
The country is also strengthening financial connectivity by setting up an offshore financial centre in the Port City in Colombo, he said, referring to the massive, upcoming development project, initiated as part of the BRI.
Though it was expected that the Prime Minister would finalise a pending agreement on the Hambantota Port while in Beijing, President Maithripala Sirisena intervened and ensured that the controversial deal was not inked on this trip, the widely-read Sunday Times here reported. The Hambantota agreement, to further develop the port in the southern town and build an investment zone nearby, has encountered considerable resistance both within the government, and from opposition forces.
New Delhi has been keenly watching Colombo’s engagement with Beijing, and has at times even raised concern over what it thought might endanger India’s interests.
Even during his recent visit, Mr. Modi reportedly enquired about the status of Chinese projects when he met former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a known ally of Beijing.