Sri Lanka fears Chinese ocean rights claims after sea reclamation project

COLOMBO (EconomyNext) – Sri Lanka is re-examining a Chinese sea reclamation project amid fears that China will lay claim to economic rights over the Ocean off the island’s capital, a minister said.

"According to the (United Nations Convention on the) law of the sea – if you have a freehold island or something – you can claim an Oceanic special economic zone as well," Energy Minister Champika Ranawaka said.

"So we have to discuss these things, we have to re-negotiate these things, and thereafter we will take a decision on this matter."

He also serves in a newly appointed committee to review large projects started by the Rajapaksa regime including the so-called Port City project involving reclaiming see near Colombo port.

The firm that is reclaiming the sea that has been given both freehold and lease hold is not a private company but a Chinese state owned firm.

China is already claiming sea rights including rights to oil exploration near the Paracel Islands off Vietnam after occupying the islands in 1974 as part of efforts to ‘help’ North Vietnam.

But Vietnam does not recognize the claims says the area is within the economic zone extending from Ly Son island which is indisputably Vietnam’s as American forces held the island to operate a radar station during the country’s civil war.

Meanwhile Minister Ranawaka said Sri Lanka’s new administration also wanted to look at the environmental impact was also uncertain.

There are fears that a change in ocean currents bordering Sri Lanka West Coast as a result of extending the shoreline would impact key tourist areas off the South West Coast which requires an environmental impact assessment.

"Also you should have a technical simulation what kind of effects are there is the coastal area and have a mitigation plan," he said.

China Communications Construction Company Ltd, the promoters of the port city project said in a media statement earlier this week that an Environmental Impact Assessment was performed by the University of Moratuwa in 2010 and an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) was also submitted.

Chinese boats have also been fishing in waters off Sri Lanka which has caused some concern.