COLOMBO: Sri Lanka and China have agreed to set up a Joint Committee to take all decisions pertaining to Chinese projects in Sri Lanka. The Sino-Lankan panel will especially look into the question of land acquisition which is a sensitive political issue in Sri Lanka.
The Chinese have asked for 15,000 acres of land for the proposed Chinese Industrial Zone in Hambantota which is expected to provide one million jobs.
The decision to establish a Sino-Lanka Joint Committee was taken during a tour of the Hambantota Sea Port and the Mattala Airport by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Chinese Ambassador Yi Xianliang on July 29, the Chinese embassy said on Thursday.
As Chinese companies are perturbed about the issue of land after the new Sri Lankan government backed out of an earlier agreement to sell 20 hectares of land in the proposed Colombo Port City to a state owned Chinese company, the Chinese envoy took up the issue of land with the Sri Lankan Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister said that the proposed Sri Lanka-China Joint Committee will go into all such matters and arrive at the best deal based on mutual agreement.
Wickremesinghe briefed Ambassador Yi on the establishment of a Sri Lanka-China Industrial Zone in Hambantota; building a new city there and imparting vocational and technical training to youths seeking employment in the industrial zone.
The Sri Lankan Prime Minister also spoke of his government’s desire to build a "Colombo-Kandy-Hambantota Corridor" linking Colombo Port City, Hambantota Habour,Bandaranaike International Airport and Mattala International Airport.
Ambassador Yi expressed the Chinese side's determination to support and take part in the establishment of the Sri Lanka-China Joint Committee, construction of a new city and the establishment of facilities for vocational and technical training.
Yi said that the Hambantota Industrial Zone will be of great significance for China-Sri Lanka cooperation for the development of Sri Lanka. He expressed the desire that Chinese enterprises undertaking projects in the industrial zone will meet quality standards and keep to schedule.
Chinese projects in Sri Lanka worth USD 8 billion hit a bad patch when President Mahinda Rajapaksa was replaced by Maithripala Sirisena following the January 8, 2015 Presidential election. In the subsequent parliamentary election held in July 2015, Sirisena’s ally, the United National Party led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, registered a victory.
Both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were keen on revisiting the Chinese projects which according to them was over-priced. They also questioned Rajapaksa’ s wisdom of selling 20 hectares of land in Colombo port City to a State owned Chinese company instead of giving the land on a 99 year lease.
India too had objected to Chinese ownership of a plot of land adjacent to the Colombo habor which is a major trans shipment hub for Indian vessels.
The Sri Lankan government suspended the Chinese projects pending investigations, and stopped the outright sale of land.
Though the issue of land sale was taken up at the highest levels in Beijing, there is yet no decision on it. It is this issue which prompted Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to propose the setting up of a joint Sri Lanka-China Committee to look into various aspects of Sino-Lankan projects in the island.
Keen on making Sri Lanka, especially Colombo and Hambantota ports, part of its ambitious 21 st.Century Maritime Silk Road, China appears ready to accommodate Sri Lankan sensitivities and its predicaments.