COLOMBO Feb 22 Chinese officials began three
days of talks on economic cooperation with Sri Lanka on
Saturday, as Beijing strengthens relations with the Indian Ocean
island that is a focal point for its regional rivalry with
"This visit will give an added impetus to opportunities
accruing to Sri Lanka in the context of promoting the country as
a regional 'commercial hub'," Sri Lanka's external affairs
ministry said in a statement.
China has increased its investments in Sri Lanka, funding
airports, roads, railways and ports, something that has
unsettled India, traditionally the closest economic partner of
the island of 21 million people.
The Chinese delegation visit comes after Sri Lankan Foreign
Minister G.L. Peiris, on a trip to China this month, said a
feasibility study on a free trade pact "is on the verge of
completion" and the deal could be sealed by the end of the year.
Sri Lanka won China's diplomatic support in a human right
row this month when Beijing voiced support for Colombo after the
United States said it would table a U.N. resolution over human
rights on the island.
Among the issues to be discussed in the Feb. 22-25 talks is
a bilateral maritime cooperation deal, dubbed a '21st century
Maritime Silk Road', that would cover issues such as fisheries,
technology and environmental protection.
(Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)