‘Satisfied’ With Environmental Assessment, Government Says Ownership Issues Still to be Resolved
Sri Lanka’s new government has affirmed to go ahead with a $1.5 bn Chinese-funded port city project planned by the previous president to avoid misunderstandings with Beijing, an official said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping officially launched the city’s development on an artificial island during a visit to Sri Lanka last September.
The country’s new government, formed after a January vote that ousted former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, endorsed the controversial plan after a study by a local university found the port project, which includes some land-reclamation work, was compatible with local environmental rules. “We are satisfied with the environmental impact assessment done by the Moratuwa University,” government spokesman and Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne told reporters Thursday.
Since being elected last month, Sirisena’s government has moved to mend relations with the United States and neighbouring India which were strained during the pro-Beijing administration of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The decision to continue the port project is seen as an effort to reassure China.
Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao will meet Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Friday, a government statement said.
Under the project, Chinese firms would receive more than 100 hectares of land to cover their investment costs, part on an outright basis and the rest on a 99-year lease.
China has become Sri Lanka’s largest lender in recent years, providing more than $6 bn through September 2013 for port facilities, highways and a new international airport.
Significance of Colombo Port
Colombo Port City is part of China’s attempt to restore its ancient prestige and historical links along the maritime Silk Road through Southeast and South Asia. China’s President Xi Jinping launched the construction work when he visited Sri Lanka last September.
Colombo’s port has strategic importance in South Asia because it is the only one that can accommodate deep-draft vessels, including ultra-large container ships. It is situated to serve the Indian subcontinent, and guards the sea route to the Middle East and Eastern Africa.
Sri Lankan President reaffirms commitment to ties with China
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena pledged to continue strong ties with China. In a message to mark the Chinese New Year, President Sirisena noted the importance of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Sri Lanka last September and affirmed that ties between Sri Lanka and China will continue at a strong level during his tenure.
Sri Lanka and China share excellent relations which have stood the test of time. It is an all-weather friendship based on mutual respect, the president said in the statement.
“Looking back at 2014, I am pleased that the historic state visit to Sri Lanka of Chinese President Xi Jinping in September last year has provided us with the opportunity to further elevate our robust relationship and deepen the strategic cooperative partnership in a manner beneficial to our two countries and peoples,” he said.
The president went on to say that Sri Lanka, as a close friend of China, has always celebrated the efforts that China has spearheaded in bringing prosperity and well-being to its people.