Colombo: China's controversial USD 1.5 billion Colombo Port City project, which was suspended by the new Sri Lankan government, has run into fresh trouble after the country's civil aviation authority raised questions on the airspace over the Chinese-held area.
"Given the media rumours of land ownership in the project, we felt it necessary to alert the government to the legal status of the airspace," Director-General of Sri Lanka Civil Aviation Aothority (SLCAA) H M C Nimalsiri told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.
The SLCCA's internal memo to the government on airspace was published by Sri Lanka's state-run Daily News yesterday in a report headlined "Flying over Port City a Taboo!"
It has pointed out that the airspace over the Chinese held area will exclusively be held by China.
"China will have exclusive rights over the airspace above the plot of land of the Colombo Port City, which was given to China on an outright basis" under the 1944 convention on civil aviation for which Sri Lanka as a signatory, the Daily News report said.
"The Civil Aviation Authority's argument has sent shock waves through the new government as to how the previous government had entered into an agreement with China without scrutinising the convention and the Civil Aviation Act," it said.
"Sri Lanka's neighbour India earlier had raised security concerns over the project as a large portion of cargoes bound for India are trans-shipped through the Colombo Port," the report said.
However, diplomatic sources here told the daily that this airspace issue could also be a major concern for India.
The project, inaugurated by Chinese President Xi Jinping in September last year, is financed by China's state- controlled China Communications Construction Co (CCCC).
It was expected to play a key role for China's Maritime Silk Road project's implementation in the Indian Ocean.
The SLCAA's "stance is likely to provide grist for the opponents of the stalled project who have alleged that granting a Chinese state-owned company land would pose security threats. That argument has gained traction since two Chinese submarines docked in Colombo last year," the Post report said.
The Chinese embassy in Colombo lashed out at the report, saying it was devoid of "basic common sense" and pointed out a Chinese company would hold the land, not the Chinese government, the Post report said.