Sri Lanka expects more tourists and cooperation from China

China’s lifting of travel restrictions has pushed many countries to attract Chinese travellers; one of them is Sri Lanka. The island country expects Chinese tourists to arrive in the New Year, alongside strengthened cooperation with China. CGTN reporter Chen Tong sat down with Consul General of Sri Lanka in Shanghai Anura Fernando for an interview.

Following are excerpts:

Q: China has partially lifted a ban on international group travel. Sri Lanka is among the countries included in the pilot program. To your knowledge – how much interest in traveling to Sri Lanka has there been from Chinese tourists?

A: So far, not much. We are expecting them to return soon. Their particular interest has been to other countries, which are closer to China, since most Chinese haven’t travelled for three years out of the country. So, they are taking a look at closer destinations. But I think Sri Lanka should be attractive to most Chinese travellers, because of Buddhism. Many Buddhist sites are located there. And there’s tea that is grown there, as well as jewellery and beaches. We have attracted large investments in Sri Lanka so I think Chinese are very familiar with the country. We are hoping this year, the tourist numbers will increase to about one million.”

Q: Looking beyond the tourism sector – China is Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner and largest source of external investment. What are your expectations for bilateral trade ties in 2023?”

A: So we are hoping to sign the free trade agreement within this year, which will open up more trade between the two countries.

Q: Speaking of investments, the Colombo Port City is a development with large investments from China. And in 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping laid a foundation stone for the project. What is the current progress of the project?

A: Due to the pandemic, it slowed down. Most people working there returned home and they are coming back into the port city. We are launching an international financial centre. Now the building’s construction has started, within the next year or two, it will start to operate. There is a port called the Hambantota Port, which was built by the China Merchant state-owned Chinese company. It’s complete and in operation. And there are some land sites available in what we call the free trade zone and a few Chinese industries are operating there. That’s part of the Belt and Road Initiative.