Sri Lanka to go ahead with Rajapaksa's Chinese port city project

 In a U-turn, the new Sri Lankan government today said it will go ahead with the Colombo Port city, a USD 1.5 billion project funded by China, to ensure relations remained 'cordial' with the communist giant.

PTI| Updated: Feb 05, 2015, 19:41 PM IST

Colombo: In a U-turn, the new Sri Lankan government today said it will go ahead with the Colombo Port city, a USD 1.5 billion project funded by China, to ensure relations remained 'cordial' with the communist giant.

The Cabinet has decided to go ahead with the project, Minister of Health and government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told reporters.

President Maithripala Sirisena would discuss the project with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during his visit to China next month, he said.

The Colombo Page quoted Senaratne as saying that in order to ensure relations remained cordial with China, the cabinet decided to go ahead with the project.

The port, expected to play a key role for China's ambitious Maritime Silk Road project in India's backyard, is being seen as the single largest private sector development ever in the island.

The 1.5 billion dollar project, would allow China Communication Construction Co. Ltd, a Chinese government-owned infrastructure builder, to hold land in a high-security zone within close proximity to the Colombo port.

In the run up to the last month's polls, Sirisena and the new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe criticised the mega investments by China, stating that they were taken at high rates of interest and deeply indebted Sri Lanka.

In December, Wickremesinghe - who heads the United National Party (UNP) - said, if elected, the new government would scrap the Colombo Port City as it would end up destroying the coastal belt from the neighbouring Negombo to Beruwala.

Rajapaksa was the first to support the project when it was announced by Xi last year, giving it a boost while India is yet to announce its stand.

The new government has made several statements that it may review the project with China, that sees the port as a gateway to Beijing's presence in the Indian Ocean.

The project envisages reclaiming of 230 hectares of water front to be developed as a port city with roads, water, electricity, communication facilities to set up shopping areas, water sports area, mini golf course, hotels, apartments, recreation areas and marinas.

In September last year, Xi inaugurated the construction of the project, part of China's attempt to restore its ancient prestige and historical links along the maritime Silk Road through Southeast and South Asia.

The current Sri Lankan government in opposition was critical of the pro-China policy of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who built new sea ports, airports and highways with Chinese funds during his nine-year rule.