COLOMBO: Derided by the international media as a “White elephant”, and as port which ships avoid, the Chinese-built US$ 1.1 billion Hambantota port in South Sri Lanka is gradually proving to be a worthwhile investment.

Since the signing of an agreement between the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and the China Merchant Port Holdings (CM Port) in December 2017, the overall performance of the port has improved and it is attracting more ships now, says the Chief Operating Officer of the Hambantota International Port Group Ltd (HIPG), Tissa Wickramasinghe.

"What the previous management of the Port had achieved in one year, we have achieved in four months. Till April, already 132 ships have arrived at the Port, this is compared to the 202 ships which arrived last year," Wickramasinghe told a symposium on China’s Belt and Road and Initiative (BRI) and Sri Lanka organized by the Chinese Embassy here on Wednesday.

He added that at the time the CM Port and SLPA signed the agreement, there were 400 workers in the Hambantota Port.

But today more than 600 workers are employed at the Port, with 80 percent of them hailing from the Hambantota District.

Colombo Port City Project

The Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of CHEC Port City Colombo Pvt Ltd, Liang Thow Ming, said that reclamation work is scheduled to be completed mid next year while the completion of Phase I of infrastructure development will be completed by 2020.

He said the mega Port City project, once completed will attract tourism into Colombo city as there will be luxury hotels, an international school, a financial center, a mega international convention center, marina and beaches.

BRI To Help Raise Living Standards in Lanka

In his remarks, the Sri Lankan Minister of International Trade, Malik Samarawickrema said that China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will help Sri Lanka raise the living standards of its people.

"China is sincerely looking to improve the economy of Sri Lanka and with their assistance I have no doubt Sri Lanka will be a better country in the near future," the Minister said.

"We are well aware that before 2050, China will be the major economic power in the world. I do not think that anyone can stop that. And working with them very closely, it will only help us and the people of Sri Lanka," Samarawickrema said.

The Minister said that more and more Chinese companies are eager to invest in Sri Lanka under the BRI and the government welcomes these investments

He added that the governments of China and Sri Lanka are hoping to sign within the coming year.

US$ 15 billion Already Invested

China's Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Cheng Xueyuan, said that as of the end of 2017, Chinese companies had completed more than US$ 15 billion dollars infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka and made great contributions to the economic and social development of the country.

“As one of the first countries to openly support the Belt and Road Initiative, Sri Lanka is an important partner with China in the Belt and Road joint construction,” Cheng said.

“We would like to work with our Lankan friends to further enhance mutual trust, respect and support to implement the mega projects of Colombo Port City as well as the Hambantota Port and Industrial Park, to boost the economic development of the island nation for the early harvest of joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative and to bring tangible benefits to our two countries and peoples," the Ambassador said.