Hambantota: A China-funded
port in Sri Lanka will be a symbol of Colombo`s non-partisan
foreign policy, the president said on Sunday amid Indian concerns
over Beijing`s interests in the region.
President Mahinda Rajapakse marked a key milestone in
the construction of the 1.5 billion-dollar port in the
southern Sri Lankan town of Hambantota with a message of
goodwill to all nations.
"This port will symbolise our non-alignment and
friendship with all," the president said at a ceremony to mark
the completion of the first phase of the deep-sea port.
"The step forward we take today as a nation will be
one that will see international economic cooperation built
through mutual trust, respect and friendship."
Sri Lanka is part of the 118-member Non-Aligned
Movement, a group of states considering themselves not aligned
formally with or against any major power bloc.
Its neighbour and biggest trading partner, India,
is believed to be concerned that Hambantota is part of a
Chinese policy to throw a "string of pearls" geographical
circle of influence around India.
China is also developing port facilities in
Bangladesh, Myanmar and Pakistan, and has plans for rail
projects in Nepal and Sri Lanka.
"Indian threat perceptions have grown as China has
become more active in South Asia," said Eurasia Group`s Asia
analyst, Maria Kuusisto.
"New Delhi sees this Chinese manoeuvring as an
incursion into its historic sphere of influence, and is
consequently trying to outbid the Chinese for strategically
important infrastructure projects," she said.
Sitting along the ancient "Silk Road" trading route
and one of the world`s busiest shipping lanes, the Hambantota
port is intended to boost Sri Lanka`s economy which is
recovering after decades of ethnic conflict.
Partly funded by a soft Chinese loan of 300 million
dollars, the first phase of the deep-sea port is scheduled to
open in November. Hambantota is also the home constituency of
Rajapakse who became president in November 2005.
Rajapakse said he wanted to see the country`s per
capita income double to 4,000 dollars in the next five years.
The government hopes that by the time the second
phase of the port is completed in 2014, it will help attract
foreign investment in shipping and related business
The Sri Lanka Ports Authority aims to service
around 2,500 of the 70,000 cargo ships that ply the East-West
sea lane every year.
Last year, China overtook Japan as Sri Lanka`s
biggest lender, providing 1.2 billion dollars in loans.