China set to build new Sri Lanka refinery, says minister

Kanchana Wijesekera said the government would shortly enter into an investment agreement with Sinopec to build the refinery

November 01, 2023 03:50 am | Updated 03:50 am IST - Colombo

Sri Lanka is set to award a multi-billion dollar oil refinery project to a Chinese state-owned company after a rival bidder pulled out, the energy minister said Tuesday.

Kanchana Wijesekera said the government would shortly enter into an investment agreement with Sinopec to build the refinery next to the Chinese-run port at the southern town of Hambantota.

"There were only two bidders shortlisted and Vitol pulled out. That leaves only Sinopec and we will finalise an agreement with them in a couple of weeks," Wijesekera told reporters in Colombo.

Sri Lanka had originally awarded the project, which has an estimated cost of $3.85 billion, to an Indian family-owned company based in Singapore in 2019.

After Silver Park International failed to start construction, the government terminated the agreement in August, repossessing 1,200 acres (485 hectares) of land allocated for the refinery.

The nearby Hambantota deep sea port was controversially leased to a Chinese state-owned firm in 2017 for 99 years after Sri Lanka was unable to service a $1.4 billion loan taken for the project.

Sri Lanka defaulted on its $46 billion external debt last year in an unprecedented economic crisis partly blamed on Chinese loans used to build several white-elephant infrastructure projects between 2005 and 2015.

China owns 52 percent of Sri Lanka's bilateral debt, and Beijing's approval is crucial for any efforts by Colombo to restructure its outstanding loans.

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