ECONOMYNEXT – China’s envoy to Sri Lanka said Chinese firms will not take land for an industrial zone and Chinese-managed port in the island’s south against the people’s wishes, but warned that investors could lose patience if protests against the projects continue.
Yi Xianling, Ambassador of the Peoples Republic of China, said China’s proposed ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative to revive the ‘Maritime Silk Route’ stands to benefit Sri Lanka given its position on the main trade route across the Indian Ocean.
Sri Lanka had backed the initiative to modernise transport infrastructure to improve trade from the start, he said, delivering a memorial oration held by the Alumni Association of the University of Colombo.
The Hambantota port, on Sri Lanka’s south coast, funded and built by China, was “really a good one,” Yi said. “Hambantota is the best location in Sri Lanka for international navigation and shipping.”
He said he proposed an industrial zone to complement port operations, following the example of other countries where special industrial zones helped speed up economic growth.
Large tracts of land were required not just for factories but for social infrastructure like schools, hospitals and homes for engineers, Yi said.
Protests, backed by opposition politicians, have erupted against the project, with residents saying they feared their lands would be seized.
A $1.4 billion ‘Port City’ reclamation project in Colombo by China had also run into trouble, with the new government halting it soon after coming to power and insisting on changes to better protect the environment and sovereignty.
But Yi said fears over the projects were unfounded as China wanted to use its economic success to help developing nations and had never intentionally acted aggressively against other countries.
“Yesterday I addressed people in Hambantota. I promised them we will not take land without permission of their families,” Yi said. “It is Sri Lanka’s port and land. The industrial zone would be open to all countries. We have no intention to intervene in internal differences between politicians or between political groups.”
Yi said the Chinese government had advised patience in the face of protests against Chinese projects in Sri Lanka, but noted that investors might not show the same patience.
“These two projects will be most important for Sri Lanka,” Yi said. “I have time, patience, but I’m worried about patience from business people.”
Yi said he had persuaded Chinese investors to commit over $3 billion to Sri Lanka in the next 2-3 years, but warned that they might be put off by clashes between police and protestors.
(COLOMBO, Feb 16, 2017)