Sri Lanka raises security concerns over Chinese project

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Sri Lanka’s new government has voiced security and sovereignty concerns over a Chinese-funded $1.3Bn ‘port city’ reclamation project next to Colombo port.

Investment promotion minister Kabir Hashim said they were concerned about the lack of transparency in the project and plans by the former regime to give freehold land to China saying it will be “reviewed completely”.

“Our greatest concern is that it affects our sovereignty. We have security concerns. We cannot have land given on freehold basis to another country in a high security zone,” he told reporters on his first day in office Friday.

The project involves reclaiming 233 hectares on the southern side of the new Colombo South Harbour with a 3.25km long breakwater. China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC), part of China Communication Construction Co, began work on the project in September 2014 during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping. CHEC was to be given 20 hectares on freehold basis, the Sri Lankan government 125 hectares and the rest leased to investors.

“There’s been an absolute lack of transparency,” Hashim said, adding that the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), which is responsible for the project, lacked the mandate to do it.

“The SLPA does not have the mandate to do that as its mandate is to deal with ports and shipping,” Hashim said, noting that the project involves construction of hotels and office blocks. The previous regime, ousted in January in the presidential poll, had said this was to attract foreign investors and lure international shipping and logistics firms to set up regional headquarters in Colombo.

IHS Maritime

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