A general view of Colombo Port City construction site, which is backed by Chinese investment is seen through a glass window in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan 11, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]
It is now cemented, certain and unstoppable: a development project that aims to change the face of the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, and to turn the country into a commercial, financial, residential and international entertainment hub in the Indian Ocean is finally up and running.
Spread over land reclaimed from the sea, Port City Colombo is an extension of the central business district of Colombo, and those in charge of the project say they are "building a world-class city for South Asia".
The project, the largest foreign direct investment, $1.4 billion, in Sri Lanka, is jointly being developed by the Sri Lankan government and CHEC Port City Colombo Pvt Ltd of China, a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Company Limited.
It is expected to take 25 years to complete, and the aim is for the city to be a shining rival to Hong Kong, Dubai and Singapore. The reclamation of 269 hectares of land for the project was completed in January and the second phase, construction of basic infrastructure for Port City Colombo, is expected to be completed in about 15 months.
"Skyscrapers, hospitals, hotels, theme parks and marina with advanced concepts, rigorous technology, and a corporate culture of teamwork, this project will boost Sri Lanka's socio-economic development and improve local living standards," said Jiang Houliang, managing director of CHEC Port City Colombo Pvt Ltd.
The project has already created more than 4,000 jobs, benefiting thousands of Sri Lankan families, Jiang said. Moreover, in the future, the project will further attract $13 billion worth of investments for developments in the city, and 83,000 jobs are expected to be created, Jiang said, adding that the project will help Sri Lanka attract not only foreign investment but also international talent and advanced technology.
Chandana Gunawardena, deputy project manager of Port City Colombo, said: "As a Sri Lankan I feel proud to participate in the project and really look forward to the completion as soon as possible, so that it brings new opportunities to our people and our motherland, which has just recovered from a 30-year civil war."
The project has not just created jobs but delivered jobs that are better paid and that help create a better life for Sri Lankans, Gunawardena said.
The country's Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, said Port City Colombo will transform the capital into a financial and trading center.
"Sri Lanka is going to be the center of change in the next few years, and the Port City is going to be one of the most vital projects in getting us there. The city is going to make Sri Lanka the center of South Asia."
Port City Colombo is part of the Belt and Road Initiative that is adding to Sri Lanka's economic promise. The project will function as a catalyst for future development and investment.
Sri Lanka, in the Indian Ocean near the southern tip of India, between Southeast Asia and the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, is a key transshipment hub for international freight transport between the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
Since ancient times, the country, once known as Ceylon, has served as a significant maritime junction for cargo being moved across the Eurasian landmass. Today, according to the blueprint for the project, Sri Lanka's function will be enhanced by the new projects turning the city into a major hub for the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
Long Xingchun, director of the Center for Indian Studies of China West Normal University in Sichuan province, said the project would deliver huge benefits to Sri Lanka's economy and help improve the city's image, which will directly help it attract foreign capital.
When completed, Port City Colombo will be a major financial center rivaling Singapore to the east and Dubai to the west, providing direct access to the huge Indian subcontinent market, while boosting Sri Lanka's intake of foreign capital and increasing local employment opportunities in the process, Long said.