Sri Lanka is not anti-China but mainland firms won’t get ‘carte blanche’: Ravi

Sri Lanka is not anti-China but mainland firms won’t get ‘carte blanche’: Ravi

March 9, 2015   03:03 pm

Sri Lanka’s new leadership is not targeting China and only wants its help to fight corrupt deals orchestrated by the last government, the island nation’s finance minister said, even as he ratcheted up rhetoric against Chinese companies he said were once given “carte blanche” in his country.

“Sri Lanka is trying to do what Xi Jingping is doing: Root out corruption. We are not against China but against the Chinese companies manipulated by the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime into corrupt deals that are bleeding the taxpayer. The Chinese government might have been unaware of the activities of Chinese companies here,” Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake told the South China Morning Post in an exclusive interview, referring to the former president.

“Our relationship with China goes back to the 1950s, when we defied the West to forge the rice-rubber pact with China. But Chinese investment is as good as any other investment, we cannot give it preferential treatment.
“You can’t come here and demand carte blanche, as the last government gave them. If a project costs 1 million dollars, you cannot make the taxpayer pay 6 million dollars,” said Karunanayake, who is scheduled to head to Beijing soon as part of Colombo’s efforts to renegotiate the contracts the Rajapaksa government signed with Chinese companies and financing bodies.

He said Chinese projects are not the only ones being reviewed. “We are also examining a housing project by Indian conglomerate Tata. The Tatas come in and say they will put in US$250 million, but they put in US$20 million, use our land, and sell it back to us for a higher price. How does that work?”

President Xi Jinping in September inaugurated the project, which is being built by China Harbour Engineering Company, a unit of state-controlled China Communications Construction Co (CCCC), which is listed in Hong Kong.

Asked if any foreign company can start a project of this scale without a go-ahead from the Sri Lankan government and if blocking the project is tantamount to reneging on contractual obligation, Karunanayake put the onus squarely on CCCC.

“There was no clearance. And, I am told this company is blacklisted in other countries. You cannot just jump into the Indian Ocean and start filling it up.

“We want to work with China to fix the problems with projects like these and move on.” (South China Morning Post)

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