The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative will help Sri Lanka integrate more with the world by attracting foreign trade and investments, a leading Sri Lankan scholar has said.
Sirimal Abeyratne, professor of economics at the University of Colombo, speaking at the "Pathfinder-JAAFSL Seminar Series -- the Belt and Road Initiative in the Indian Ocean Region" on Monday, said that China and Sri Lanka had maintained strong economic and cultural ties since ancient times, but there was scope for relations to be further strengthened.
Sirimal said China was presently Sri Lanka's 8th export market and 2nd import market, and steps could be taken to improve this further.
He said while China had launched some mega projects under the initiative in Sri Lanka which included the Hambantota Port in the south and railways and highways, those international reports, alleging China had plunged Sri Lanka into a debt trap, were untrue.
"Some international media have highlighted that Sri Lanka is facing a debt trap due to its relationship with China, but this is not true. Thirty-nine percent of Sri Lanka's outstanding debts are from commercial market borrowings, 14 percent are from ADB, 12 percent from Japan, 11 percent from World Bank, 10 percent from China and 3 percent from India. So clearly China has not put us into any debt trap," Sirimal said.
He added that the Belt and Road Initiative will enhance connectivity in the Indian Ocean region, will promote a free trade flow, boost financial integration and also boost connectivity of people as it will connect two third of the world's population.
He said Sri Lanka would benefit from all of this.
In terms of foreign direct investments (FDI), Sirimal said Sri Lanka still does not have an admirable report. He said the country should attract more FDI including from China.
Fu Mengzi, vice president of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), who was here to participate the seminar, said that Sri Lanka was located in a pivotal position in the Indian Ocean as it could connect to Africa, Middle East and Europe.
He said Sri Lanka's Hambantota and Colombo ports would play a strategic role in boosting maritime movement and would attract more ships to the island's ports, which would enhance Sri Lanka's competitiveness.
The domestic economy of the island country would also benefit under the Belt and Road Initiative projects as it would create more opportunities for the people, such as creating employment.
"Sri Lanka's economy would be lifted to a new level and it would then enable the country to compete for regional and global economic opportunities," Fu said.
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