COLOMBO: In the midst of rioting against the Sino-Sri Lankan deal over the Hambantota port, China on Saturday categorically stated that it is committed to executing its projects in the island despite hostile propaganda by the local opposition parties.
Speaking at the launch of the China-backed Southern Economic Development Zone in the southern port town of Hambantota, the Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Yi Xianliang, said that “no negative force” can stop China’s development assistance to Sri Lanka, and no one can stop the “strong friendship” between the two countries.
“This is a great opportunity for Sri Lanka, as more than 50 Chinese investors are interested in investing in the Southern Development Project. If everything goes well, at least US$ 5 billion might be invested in the next three to five years, providing 100,000 jobs to Sri Lankans,” Yi said.
“Sri Lanka is the most friendly country for China, which is why it has been China’s highest priority to invest in Sri Lanka,” he added.
“In 2014, when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Sri Lanka, we decided to make Sri Lanka our first priority for investments. Then in 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena visited China and we confirmed and decided to support each other. Last April, Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe visited China. It is quite clear that the Chinese President and Prime Minister reached a consensus. Now, China will join Sri Lanka to help it establish its basic industrial system,” Yi said.
According to the envoy, the Southern Development Zone would be the most important economic activity for Sri Lanka, its government and the people of Hambanota.
“Sri Lanka is not a small country but a great country with a 20 million population. It’s a a big country with big potential. That is why today we have gathered here and I stand here to share with you my feelings. I will do my best to help develop Sri Lanka,” Yi said.
He assured that all Chinese projects would follow the Environmental Impact Assessment and also the laws of Sri Lanka.
“This is my promise and a promise from all Chinese business people. We will respect decisions made by the Sri Lankan government and people. We will corporate with you, government ministers and the people, to make this area, within the next 30 years, a developed area,” Yi said.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe thanked China for showing interest in investing US$ 5 billion in the next 3 to 5 years and said this would pave way for Sri Lanka to be a developed nation.
“No one can stop us from establishing a new Sri Lanka for the benefit of the youth. Like Malaysia, Singapore, and China, we will also be a developed country,” the Prime Minister said.
Protesters throw stones
Protesters against the controversial Chinese projects in Sri Lanka, who were egged on by loyalists of former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, were dispersed by police using water cannons.
Clashes erupted after protesters pelted stones at the area where the ceremony was being held.
Sri Lanka has allocated 15,000 acres for Chinese investments in South Sri Lanka and will give an 80 percent stake in the Hambantota Port to China Merchants Port Holdings in a debt equity swap as Sri Lanka finds itself unable to pay the total debt of US$ 1.4 billion dollars incurred in building the port. But the opposition and the media describe this as a “sell out of national strategic asset”.
But the Sri Lankan government has blamed former President Mahinda Rajapakse for taking hefty loans to build the Hambantota Port, highways and Mattala Airport during the previous regime, without any repayment plans.
The debt-equity swap is being touted as an FDI which is better than being indebted.