COLOMBO, Nov 2 (Reuters) – China has criticised Sri Lankan allegations of bribery in the awarding of contracts to Chinese firms worth billions of dollars, saying it should have a greater sense of gratitude for development assistance.
The comments to reporters were the strongest since President Maithripala Sirisena took office last year, vowing to investigate corruption allegations in projects such as the $1.4 billion Colombo port and the real estate development deal, as well as loans taken out by Colombo under the previous administration.
Wang Yingqi, the commercial counsellor at the Chinese embassy in Colombo, said on Tuesday that the Sri Lankan government had not given any evidence to support the allegations of corruption.
"We’re still waiting for the results of the investigation into the allegations. But so far we have not got any idea," he told reporters.
Chinese Ambassador Yi Xianliang said none of the allegations had been proved.
"We have the documents, we have the contracts. Those contracts were checked by the attorney-general, cabinet, parliament," Yi said. "…Sri Lankan people and government should have some gratitude for the things given."
Colombo took loans at a 5.8 percent interest rate last year from Europe, against the 2 percent rate that Chinese loans came with, to fund the port projects, Yi said.
"And yet they say Europe is cheaper. Is this fair?" Yi asked.
Sirisena’s government, faced with a debt and balance of payments crisis, last month asked the Chinese to resume work on the Colombo port, the country’s largest foreign direct investment project.
China has stepped up its infrastructure push across South Asia, making inroads in a region that India has considered its zone of influence.
Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is trying to push back against Chinese involvement in projects, offering financial and technical assistance of its own.