Commercial Move

HAMBANTOTA, August 12, 2010 (AFP) – Sri Lanka is preparing to open the first phase of a China-funded, 1.5-billion-dollar port project that has fuelled Indian concerns over strategic Chinese investment in South Asia. Sitting along the ancient “Silk Road” trading route and one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, the Hambantota port is intended to be the engine that will drive Sri Lanka’s economic recovery after decades of ethnic conflict.

Partly funded by a soft Chinese loan of 300 million dollars, the first phase of the deep-sea port is scheduled to open in November.

The government hopes that by the time the second phase is completed in 2014, the port on the island’s southern tip will have become a magnet for foreign investment in transshipment and spin-off business opportunities.

Sri Lanka Ports Authority chairman Priyath Wickrama said Hambantota would initially aim to service around 2,500 of the 70,000 cargo ships that ply the East-West sea lane every year.

“In about 10 years, with the second phase coming on stream, we aim to handle about 8,000 ships a year,” he said.

Sri Lanka’s neighbour and biggest trading partner, India, is believed to be concerned that Hambantota is part of