COLOMBO: Dr Harsha de Silva, an opposition United National Party (UNP) MP and a Sri Lankan economist, has warned that India’s strategic interests may be threatened by the Lankan government’s decision to give majority stake in the US$ 350 million Colombo South Container Terminal project to a Chinese company.
“Eighty per cent of Colombo port’s earnings come from transshipment to and from Indian ports. When the Colombo South Port goes under the Chinese control, Indian maritime trade passing through Colombo will come under watch by the Chinese,” de Silva told Express here on Saturday.
“This situation will certainly make India uncomfortable. Sri Lanka may have issues with India on various issues, but to be realistic, it will have to take India’s strategic interests into consideration when it enters into business deals with other countries,” Harsha said.
On the Rajapaksa government’s policy of handing over “on a platter” to Chinese companies a large number of infrastructure projects of strategic importance to India, Dr de Silva warned: “The repercussion of the short-term strategy to open all stops for the Chinese, without any concern for geopolitics or regional economic integration, will be seen in the not too distance future.”
The China Merchants Holding International Company has acquired an 85 per cent stake in the Colombo South Port project, with the Lankan company, Aitken Spence, selling its 30 per cent stake to it this month. The Chinese company has been given control over the South Colombo Terminal on BOT basis for 35 years.
“Considering the free rein that the Chinese company has been enjoying, it will not be long before it brings the facility within its total control,” Dr de Silva said. The other major port in Lanka, Hambantota, is already under the Chinese control.
Explaining the withdrawal of Aitken Spence, Dr de Silva said the China Development Bank, which was to fund its debt, had demanded greater security leaving Aitken Spence no option but to pull out.
The ADB, which was to fund the project in 2007, had estimated the cost at US$ 154 million but the Chinese company had jacked it up by 100 per cent, he charged.