China welcomes decision to go ahead with Port City Project
February 6, 2015 11:24 pm
China today welcomed new Sri Lankan government’s decision to go ahead with the controversial USD 1.5 billion Colombo Port City project funded by it, calling the country an important partner in implementing its mega Maritime Silk Road project in South Asia.
“We regard Sri Lanka as an important cooperative partner in promoting belt and road initiative in South Asia,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.
The port, expected to play a key role for China’s ambitious Maritime Silk Road project in India’s backyard, is being seen as the single largest private sector development ever in the island.
The project involving the 233 hectares of reclaimed land in capital Colombo was cleared by the new Sri Lankan government after expressing reservations over its environmental impact.
The deal included state-run China Communications Construction Co Ltd, taking over 108 hectares including 20 hectares on an outright basis and the rest on a 99-year lease.
The deal was struck by former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa as he moved closer to China much to the disquiet of India permitting even Chinese submarines docking in Colombo harbour.
A detailed discussion is expected to be held during new Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena proposed visit to Beijing in March.
The threat to review has caused concern here as Colombo Port was regarded as key to the success of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s mega Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road project.
Colombo’s decision came as China dispatched its Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao as Special Representative of Chinese government to hold talks with Sri Lankan government.
“We believe that Sri Lanka’s new government will bare in mind the overall interests of China Sri Lanka friendly relations and the fundamental interests of Sri Lanka ensure that major cooperation projects between the two countries will not influenced by political changes in Sri Lanka,” Hong quoted Liu telling Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera in Colombo yesterday.
Liu also said Chinese side places the China-Sri Lanka relations on important position on China’s neighbourhood diplomacy.
Liu also met new Prime Minister Ranil Wickaramasinghe and discussed the bilateral ties. “All the major cooperation project between China and Sri Lanka including the Colombo Port meets the requirements of Sri Lanka to improve people’s livelihood and deliver tangible benefits in Sri Lanka,” Liu said.
Wickamarsinghe said China has become largest partner of development of Sri Lanka and the country is thankful for all the help.
However, speaking in Parliament today, the Prime Minister said the government would thoroughly review the project involving the reclamation of 233 hectares (583 acres) of land next to a Chinese-owned mega port in Colombo.
He told parliament Friday that two committees of experts would carry out a probe. The project had been approved by the previous regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa who had been accused of corruption.
“I got down all the files relating to this project,” the premier said.
“When I inspected them, I found that all the required reports are not there. There is a deficiency in the environment impact assessment.”
His remarks came after the opposition JVP strongly objected to the Cabinet approving the project, which is Sri Lanka’s single largest foreign investment.
The JVP noted that the current government itself had raised objections on environmental grounds.
“We will inquire and then ... take a decision,” the prime minister said without setting a deadline for the investigation.