ALSO READChina discloses plans for Arctic, 'Polar Silk Road' on the way India eyes airport in Sri Lanka, near Chinese Belt and Road outpost Only country to oppose China's Belt and Road Initiative is India: US expert China's Silk Road dealmakers eye Europe's banks, insurers, asset managers How China's first 'silk road' slowly came to life - on the water
Sri Lanka wants a longer-time period to negotiate a free trade agreement with China as it is concerned about the economic impact of a rushed deal on their small country, the Sri Lankan ambassador said on Sunday.
Hundreds of Sri Lankans clashed with police at the opening last year of a Chinese-invested industrial zone in the south, saying they would not be moved from their land. It was the first time opposition to Chinese investments in Sri Lanka had turned violent.
"We'd like to have the process a little longer. China would like to have it faster," Kodituwakku told Reuters.
"Because Sri Lanka being a small economy, we have to get a consensus from stakeholders," he added. "Therefore the delay is due to the time period. But eventually, we will sign the agreement."
"Chinese imports are very important to Sri Lanka, but opening up the whole thing in a short time may make some problems for local companies. Therefore we have to balance it."
Sri Lanka has also been trying to get investment for a little-utilised airport on its southern tip, in Mattala, built at a cost of $253 million by China, which also provided $230 million of funding.
"No doubt it was a white elephant.
It is still a white elephant," Kodituwakku said.
India had been in advanced talks with Sri Lanka to operate the airport, but the ambassador said no deal had been reached.
"We have to turn it into a viable economic venture. In fact, we gave the option to Chinese companies. I know Chinese companies have shown an interest, but according to our studies they were not having a viable economic plan and that's why they had to give the option to India," he said.
"The Indian offer had been there, but even that has not been finalised," Kodituwakku added.
"Anyone who want to come and turn the Mattala airport into a viable economic venture will be welcome. But unfortunately no one has taken over."