By Yang MeijuJamila Najmuddin
COLOMBO, April 5 (Xinhua) -- Sri Lanka is seeking to expand its economic and trade ties with China and has invited more Chinese companies to invest in the island nation, Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said.
In an exclusive interview with Xinhua on Friday, ahead of his four-day official visit to China on April 6, Wickremesinghe said that he would be looking to set up a long-term economic and investment relationship with China, which will help expand trade between the two nations.
"Today, China has become one of the leading economic powers of the world. China has made many investments in Sri Lanka and it has also given loans and grants," Wickremesinghe said.
The purpose of his visit, according to the prime minister, is to boost economic relations between Sri Lanka and China and discuss bilateral Free Trade Agreement.
"We like to have more emphasis on Chinese private investments into Sri Lanka and there are some other economic issues such as future loans that I hope to discuss," he said.
The four-day official visit to China next week will be Wickremesinghe's first since winning a parliamentary election in August last year.
His party, the United National Party (UNP), defeated the former United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by former President Mahinda Rajapakse and his government led by President Maithripala Sirisena has now set a goal to transform Sri Lanka into South Asia's international hub.
Sri Lanka's largest foreign investment, the Colombo Port City Project, funded by China, was recently given green light to resume after it was suspended by the government in March last year due to environmental concerns.
Wickremesinghe said that the project will now be granted a special status as a unique financial and business district of Sri Lanka and will be included in the government's mega development plan.
"The Port City will become a special financial and business district of Sri Lanka which will have its own laws. Of course the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka must have the final say," he said.
There will be a separate financial and legal system operating in the Port City "where people can come and transact business internationally," according to the prime minister.
Sri Lanka is having discussions with the Chinese government in setting up a special economic zone in Hambantota in the south with Chinese investments. With the Mattala Airport and the Hambantota port in the area, Sri Lanka hopes to attract Chinese companies that have experience in operating airports and harbors, Wickremesinghe said.
"Once it is set, it will become one major economic zone as we plan to transform Hambantota into the second largest economic area in Sri Lanka."
In addition, China has also extended its cooperation with Sri Lanka in the government's western megapolis development plan and the integrated development plan in Pollonnaruwa in the North Central Province, he added.
With China's 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiative, Sri Lanka hopes to regain its status as the hub of the Indian Ocean, the prime minister said.