By Charumini de Silva
A senior official from the Chinese Foreign Ministry recently said that the new Sri Lankan Government had expressed its commitment towards the Colombo Prot City Project, adding that they welcomed the decision.
Justifying the delay in the recommencement of the much discussed $ 1.5 billion Colombo Port City, which remains under review since the arrival of the new Government, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Counsellor and Division Director Chen Feng recently said that it was normal for a new Government to re-evaluate the decisions and projects proposed by the previous Government.
“The most important factor is to enhance the mutual understanding between the two countries. I think the two Governments are now gradually working towards coming back to the normal track and all the projects will restart soon,” he told a group of visiting Sri Lankan journalists in Beijing, China.
Chinese developers were due to buy 20 hectares of freehold land under the $ 1.4 billion Port City project in the capital Colombo, in a deal brokered by Sri Lanka’s previous Government. But President Maithripala Sirisena’s new Government put the project on hold in March, pending negotiations, saying it lacked the necessary permits and approval.
He commended how the two Governments handled the situation during the transition period with good communication and understanding.
Clarifying his point, Feng asserted that the purpose was to realise the common prosperity of all regional countries. He added that Sri Lanka was one of China’s most important partners along the silk route especially because of its strategic location and longstanding friendship.
He also said that they were in close contact with the Chinese construction company of the Port City project.
“I think we are generally very keen about the project. It caused few difficulties for the company, but I believe that these can be resolved as the new Government has expressed its willingness to proceed with the projects in Colombo especially the Kidney Hospital and Water Treatment Plant.”
When asked if Chinese companies would be sceptical with future investment, he said that as the Chinese Government was encouraging companies to invest in Sri Lanka it would not be a problem.
“Sri Lanka is developing infrastructure and the Government has worked on an infrastructure development plan covering all parts of the island. Therefore we think these are all opportunities for Chinese companies as they have the ability and technical knowhow,” he noted.
The project company, China Communications Construction Co Ltd. (CCCC), which funds the Port City project, estimated when it was suspended in March that the shutdown would result in losses of more than $ 380,000 a day.
Feng stressed that China had never demanded anything when working with Sri Lanka and it did so only for the region’s benefit.
Noting that China’s policy is to invest more overseas to enhance its industrial cooperation, he said: “China has been developing very fast and we want our development to be beneficial to our neighbouring countries including Sri Lanka. China is willing to help Sri Lanka to improve the infrastructure, bring in more employment opportunities and improve the wellbeing of all Sri Lankans.”
In addition to the investments, he stated that the two countries would continue their good relations, with leaders from each country meeting each other through state visits.
However, he said that the Ministry had still not decided on the VIP visits for the next year but they were in the process of planning the visits by the year’s end.
“China-Sri Lanka friendship goes back a long way in history. We want our bilateral trade to move forward steadily without any problem because this friendship is very precious,” Feng stressed.