South Asia

Sri Lanka to go ahead with Chinese-funded port city in Colombo

Backtracking from its pre-election announcement on scrapping the Chinese-funded port city in Colombo, the Sri Lankan Government on Thursday said it would go ahead with the $1.34-billion project.


According to Cabinet spokesman and Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne, a report on the environmental impact of reclaiming land near Colombo’s beachfront said “it [the project] was fine”.  The impact of the development of the area will be assessed later as “there was more time”, he said, addressing media persons. The decision comes less than two months after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe announced, prior to the country’s January 8 presidential elections, that the massive port city project would be scrapped due to concerns over possible environmental damage to the island’s coastline.  


At that time, Mr. Wickremesinghe's remarks came as good news to sections in New Delhi that had been rather concerned about Sri Lanka’s apparently growing proximity to China. New Delhi conveyed its “serious concerns” to Colombo, after a Chinese submarine docked at the Colombo Port twice last year.    


Asked if the newly-formed government had not been aware of the environment impact assessment report then – readied prior to the inauguration of the port city project in September 2014 – Minister Senaratne said: “Certain people were not aware.”


The port city — Sri Lanka’s single largest foreign investment inaugurated by Chinese President Xi Jinping in September 2014 — is coming up near Colombo’s container terminal, also built by the Chinese.  China’s agreement with Sri Lanka enables it to gain ownership of a third of the nearly 580 acres of reclaimed land where the port city is to come up.


The project, Mr. Senaratne said, will be further discussed when President Maithripala Sirisena travels to China in March, soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi wraps up his visit to Sri Lanka.  


Under former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka appeared to be moving closer to China, which invested heavily in the island’s infrastructure following the war, primarily by way of loans.  Just ahead of the elections several members of Sri Lanka’s then joint opposition, which has now formed the government after unseating Mr. Rajapaksa, were publicly questioning this perceived “over-reliance” on China.


Mr. Senaratne, who also announced other cabinet decisions, said a special presidential task for on reconciliation has been set up to look into cases of persons being detained for many years. “The government is considering  releasing 275 Tamil prisoners,” he told reporters.


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Printable version | May 17, 2021 11:28:30 PM |

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