COLOMBO: The Chinese Ambassador in Sri Lanka ,Yi Xianliang, has said that the Colombo Financial City to be built by Chinese firms, will be a transparent commercial venture in which companies from any part of the world can participate. But he warned that China will not allow anyone to use the project to spoil relations between China and Sri Lanka.
The Ambassador said this in answer to a question whether Indian firms will be participating in the multi-billion dollar project about which the government of India had some apprehensions in the early stages.
“Some Indian companies are already in involved in it, since work on it was restarted in April this year,” Yi said.
He was speaking to the National Chamber of Commerce here on Wednesday.
“Indian participation is needed. We welcome participation by any third party,” the envoy said emphatically.
Earlier, while addressing the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, Yi said that when he went to India scouting for participants in what was then called the “Colombo Port City project”, five top Indian companies had shown eagerness to participate. But he would not name them.
The Ambassador, who is a professional economist and a trade expert in the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said that it is very important for Sri Lanka to build international relations on the basis of trade and investment ties rather than strategic, political and cultural ties, as only economic ties will ensure a strong foundation for and stability in bilateral relations.
Yi said that China sets much store by economic relations relegating political, strategic and cultural ties to the background, because it is convinced about the critical importance of trade and investment in ensuring good and long lasting political relations.
In this context, he recalled the lasting contribution of the “Rubber for Rice Pact” between Sri Lanka and China signed in 1952 to Sino-Sri Lankan relations. The celebrated pact, which met Sri Lanka’s dire need for rice while securing a reasonable price for its rubber, laid the foundation for lasting friendship between Sri Lanka and China.
“Even now, every Sri Lankan and Chinese recalls the Rubber-Rice Pact when talking of Sino-Sri Lankan friendship,” Ambassador Yi said.
The envoy stressed the need for a China-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement as such agreements are in the interest of both countries. He hoped it would be signed by year end.
Although Sri Lanka has very little that China does not itself produce, China is ready to buy more from Sri Lanka, especially tea, gems, vegetables and fish and fish products. Chinese shop keepers have told him that they are eager to stock more Sri Lankan products.
But the way forward for Sri Lanka is not just to export more of the same but to increase and improve the basket of exportable goods, while reducing imports, Yi said. This needs investment and the development of new skills. China has huge investment plans in Sri Lanka in the Colombo Financial City, in the Mattala Airport, the Humbantota Economic Zone and the Galle Harbor which will help reduce imports and increase exports and enable Sri Lanka to get out of the present debt trap.
The Colombo Financial City is expected to get US$ 8 billion in Foreign Direct Investment and the Humbantota Economic Zone US$ 5 billion.
“When these projects reach fruition, Sri Lankans will know who are their real friends,” Yi quipped.
Asked whether the Chinese projects will employ Sri Lankan workers in substantial numbers, the envy said that 99 percent will be locally recruited as indeed they are now. “Even in the existing projects only 1 percent are Chinese.”
However, Yi said that Sri Lankan workers need to be trained in various skills and also need to be taught Chinese language and culture to ensure perfect communication and mutual understanding at the floor level. Training is already on.