COLOMBO, Dec. 9 (Xinhua) -- Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Saturday that Sri Lanka had joined China's Belt and Road Initiative with the launch of operations at the Hambantota Port through a joint venture between China and Sri Lanka.
The port was handed over to the China Merchant Ports Holdings (CMPH) on a 99-year lease agreement at a ceremony, and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority together with CMPH will manage the operations of the southern port.
"Today we have made arrangements for the management and long-term success of the Hambantota Port. This Sri Lankan and Chinese joint venture, which has taken over the management of this port, and its operations will ensure an additional port in the Indian Ocean," Wickremesinghe said.
"The Hambantota Port will add to Sri Lanka's concept of transforming into a hub in the Indian Ocean."
The Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative, proposed by China in 2013, aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road routes.
The prime minister said that with the development of the Hambantota Port, steps were also being taken to construct an economic zone in Hambantota which would see hundreds of foreign investors launching factories within this zone in the near future.
"This will definitely help strengthen our economy," Wickremesinghe said.
CMPH said in a statement that the Hambantota Port will be the largest multi-purpose port in Sri Lanka and also the island nation's single largest private investment.
"The aim of the government of Sri Lanka and the China Merchant Port Holdings is to transform Hambantota port from a "transshipment hub" to a "total logistics hub" of the Indian Ocean region," the company said.
For CMPH, Hambantota is its second investment in Sri Lanka, the first being the Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT). The CICT, which is the island nation's only deep-water terminal to date, has already notched 2 million TEU containers.
In July, the Sri Lakan government together with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority signed an agreement with CMPH for the development and operation of the Hambantota Port on a Public-Private-Partnership basis.