Chinese President Xi Jinping is touring Southeast Asia to promote a new “Silk Road” of trading hubs connecting China with the rest of the continent; the link is called the BCIM Corridor, for Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar. Jinping arrived in Sri Lanka Tuesday and announced a new Chinese-backed port city worth $1.4 billion. He is also scheduled to visit both India and the Maldives this week.

Xi is the first Chinese head of state to visit Sri Lanka in 28 years and will be the first to visit India in eight years later this week. Trade prospects between the Asian giants got a boost in July when newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was seeking a stronger economic relationship with China, a longtime rival.

Xi’s economic politicking is seen as a direct challenge to old rival Japan, which has also sought to expand its commerce in the region. Japan signed a $35 million investment deal with India earlier this year and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Sri Lanka earlier this month. Xi hopes to bring India back into China's economic circle and keep the Japanese at bay.

Xi secured the backing of Tajikistan last week for a similar trade initiative to link China and Central Asia.