China, Sri Lanka working on building 21st Century Maritime Silk Road

Updated: 2014-09-16 09:45


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COLOMBO - China and Sri Lanka are working on the modalities of implementing the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiative, a senior official said on Monday.

Speaking hours ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Sri Lanka, External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris told media that China-Sri Lanka relations are set to improve from their current all-time high and expand significantly into other areas, focusing on investment and trade.

Sri Lanka will be the third leg of Xi's ongoing four-country Asia trip, which has already taken him to Tajikistan and the Maldives.

"When I was in China on an official visit, I met the foreign minister and had a discussion on this (maritime silk road) and I assured him that Sri Lanka was strongly supportive of this concept," he said.

He pointed out that the geographical location of Sri Lanka made it part of the ancient silk route and would once again find resonance in the modern version proposed by the Chinese government.

"President Xi's concept involves a dual track, which is a close association at sea and on land. The idea is to bring the economies of these countries closer, to enhance their synergies, in particular in terms of international trade. We are now in the process of working out the modalities of a concept that Sri Lanka finds very congenial and we have extended to that concept our strong support," he added.

Reiterating support for China's maritime silk road initiative, the minister also went on to say the two countries are working on streamlining customs and tax policies, increasing engagement between central banks and paving the way to reduce trade barriers.

"Both countries have agreed that the political relationship is exemplary, the focus would be on expansion of economic relationship, in particular trade and investment. Perhaps the most important agreement was the decision to work towards the early completion of a free trade agreement between the two countries and the effort that we are making is to conclude this FTA before the end of the year."

The FTA was termed as a "very significant development" because it would enable Sri Lankan exports to reach the vast markets of China "on very generous terms."

He also recounted China's assistance in providing funding for massive infrastructure development projects since the end of a three-decade war in 2009.

A port in the southern part of the country, a second international airport, numerous highways, railways and roads were highlighted by him, along with a $1.2 billion coal-power plant, which will be opened by President Xi on Tuesday.