On his tour of south and central Asia, Xi Jinping became the first Chinese head of state to visit Sri Lanka in 28 years. He has won favor in the island nation for his plan to build a “maritime Silk Road.” He and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa signed deals on a host of infrastructure and investment deals, most notably including one to develop a major port city. The AP reports on the increasingly close relationship:
Before departing for India on Wednesday, Xi planned to help launch Colombo Port City, being constructed on an artificial island off Colombo with $1.4 billion in Chinese loans, according to the builder, China Communications Construction Co. Ltd.The company said the port city will be a “hub on the marine Silk Road of Asia and position itself as the preferred global tourism destination in Asia.”Rajapaksa said the port city would be the single largest development project in the country’s history with the potential to attract $5 billion in investments.Xi and Rajapaksa also launched the final phase of a 900 megawatt coal power plant valued at more than $1.3 billion.Rajapaksa said the plant will help make electricity available for every Sri Lankan household, and announced a 25 percent reduction in electricity fees.China has become Sri Lanka’s largest lender in recent years, providing more than $6 billion through September 2013 for port facilities, highways and a new international airport.
China’s ability to support infrastructure development in exchange for influence and favor is a major diplomatic tool, and Xi can certainly wield it. India is also a recent recipient of major Chinese infrastructure investment, since Xi wants to pry apart Tokyo’s close relationship with New Delhi. With Xi pushing ahead with his maritime Silk Road plan, we should expect this style of diplomacy to continue to play a big role in Asia.