Colombo port project not a security threat to India: Ranil

The Colombo Port City project, which both China and Sri Lanka have decided to develop into a financial hub, will not have any impact on Indian security, visiting Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said here on Saturday.

“We have discussed it with India and we are willing to discuss it with India further. As you know, this is not going to be a China-Sri Lanka venture. It is going to open to everyone and already many Indian businessmen have told me that they are willing to come to the port city,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said.

“It will be a joint venture with a Chinese company and a Sri Lankan company and we want to put 40 per cent out into the stock market and it will give an opportunity to Indian companies to invest in the Sri Lankan venture.”

“Sri Lanka has been planning to establish a financial and business hub in the Indian Ocean and we selected the port city to be the location. So from a landfill and real estate [project], it has become a financial hub,” he added.

He pointed out that the Port City would become part of efforts to turn Sri Lanka’s western province into a mega-polis of eight million people. “[It will be] the bigger city in the Indian Ocean where there will be more opportunity for infrastructure development by Chinese and other companies.”

Another Shenzhen

The Prime Minister highlighted that his government wanted to turn the port of Hambantota into another Shenzhen— the city that was at the heart of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. He rejected the contention that like Gwadar in Pakistan, the Chinese will manage the operations of the port.

“The second phase of the Hambantota harbour is on. Again, Hambantota development is not a Chinese-Sri Lankan development. Anyone can come and develop in the area. As far as the operation of the port and the airport are concerned, the state will become regulators and there will be separate independent operators. We will have a stake in the operation of both the port and the airport. The Sri Lankan navy will have a base in Hambantota shifting from Galle.”

Mr. Wickremesinghe said the Sri Lankans were talking to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chadrababu Naidu about greater cooperation between Sri Lankan ports and Visakhapatnam once an economic and technology agreement with India is materialised. “What we are doing in Sri Lanka is an economic and technology agreement with India, FTA with China, FTA with Singapore and GSP plus with EU.”

The generalised system of preferences, or GSP, is a preferential tariff system.

Mr. Wickremesinghe said during his visit “a comprehensive economic strategy” between Sri Lanka and China had been defined, which would be relevant for the next two decades.

“I would call this a second rubber-rice pact,” he observed, refereeing to the 1952 agreement between Beijing and Colombo when Sri Lanka traded rubber with China in return for much needed rice.

The Prime Minister pointed out that with China as one of the core partners, his country had devised a regionally inclusive “economic plan”, which would establish Sri Lanka as a “financial, business and logistics hub”. He added that the framework of the plan aligns with China’s Belt and Road initiative, India’s Make-in-India policy, and Singapore’s vision of economic engagement with Colombo.

A Joint Statement issued at the end of the visit said: “The two sides will use the development of a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road as an opportunity to further advance infrastructure development, the China-Sri Lanka FTA negotiations and promote joint ventures…”

Ranil rejected the contention that China will manage the operations of Hambantota port

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