China and Sri Lanka announced the start of negotiations on a free trade agreement, a deal observers said will inspire greater engagement from other South Asia nations in Beijing's proposed Maritime Silk Road project.
The announcement came after Xi met with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo on Tuesday. Xi's visit is the first trip to the country by a Chinese head of state in 28 years.
To show their hospitality, the Sri Lankan presidential couple went to the airport for the arrival. Forty elephants were lined up to greet Xi.
China and Sri Lanka are 'trustworthy and reliable with each other", and China is willing to be a good partner that can weather storms together, Xi said at the meeting.
Rajapaksa said China's economic contribution to Sri Lanka is unprecedented, and he hoped that the FTA talks - which will begin on Wednesday - will come to a successful end at an early date.
Sri Lanka supports China's Maritime Silk Road project because it resonates with the country's vision of development, he added.
On Tuesday, the two countries also signed more than 20 deals covering infrastructure, power, transport and culture.
Last year, bilateral trade reached $3.62 billion as China became Sri Lanka's largest investor.