COLOMBO: China’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Yi Xianliang, has warned Sri Lanka that Chinese investors wanting to set up manufacturing units in the Hambantota Economic Zone are running out of patience because of the continuing agitation against the China-funded Economic Zone over the issue of land acquisition.
“I had been able to persuade more than ten big Chinese CEOs to invest in the island country, but their patience may be running thin as local groups continue to protest against the projects,” the newsin.asia website quotes him as saying.
Yi was speaking at the Colombo University Alumni Association here on Wednesday.
“I do believe these big projects will be most important for Sri Lanka in the future and in the China’s Silk Road project. We either go ahead or we stop here. I remember the instruction of my President to keep patience. I have time, I am patient. But I am worried about the patience of the business people. I already persuaded more than ten Chinese big CEOs to invest around 3 to 5 billion dollars in the next 2 to 3 years,” the Ambassador said.
But given the unending agitations, their patience is wearing thin, Yi said.
“When investors come to talk to me about this I tell them to go to the Sri Lankan leaders to get an answer, and not come to me,” Yi added.
China is funding a 15,000-acre economic zone in Hambantota in the island’s south and is also going to take over 80 percent of the Hambantota Port as per a Framework Agreement signed with the Sri Lankan government.
But local village activists, backed by former President Mahinda Rajapakse, have been carrying on agitations against land acquisition as it involves taking over privately owned land.
The Chinese envoy maintained that China has no intention of taking any lands without the permission of the owners. He also said that for the present, there is no need to take over private lands as the government lands given by the Ports Authority and the Board of Investment (BOI) are enough for the current level of investment.
“Yesterday (Tuesday) I spoke with the District Secretary. We will not get any lands from farmers. Presently, we will only use lands from BOI for the proposed economic zone. Also there is some land with the port itself,” Yi said.
“Some say Chinese will get 50 sq km from Sri Lanka. This is not true,” he said.
Speaking on the benefits of the economic zone, Yi said that developed countries such as Singapore, US, Japan, all have special zones which have contributed to these countries’ economic development.
Thailand has a special zone funded by China and its production outcome last year was 10 percent of the GDP of Thailand, the envoy pointed out.
He said that the Hambantota Economic Zone would belong solely to the Sri Lankan government and the Sri Lankan people and China have no intention of using Sri Lanka to target any other country.
He further said China has no intention to intervene in Sri Lanka’s differences between Sri Lankan politicians and political groups referring to the on-going conflict between the Ranil Wickremesinghe government and the opposition led by ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa over the Hambantota port and the economic zone.