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China ‘is first port of call’


POLICY MATTERS: Sri Lanka handing over Hambantota port to China has sparked fears over Beijing’s regional influence; and (below) Ranil Wickremesinghe
POLICY MATTERS: Sri Lanka handing over Hambantota port to China has sparked fears over Beijing’s regional influence; and (below) Ranil Wickremesinghe

SRI LANKA’S PLAN TO RAISE CASH WITH HAMBANTOTA DEAL CAUSES CONCERN

SRI LANKA last Saturday (9) handed over a deep-sea port to a Chinese firm, in a deal agreed to boost the cash-strapped island’s finances that has raised concerns at home and abroad over Beijing’s grow­ing influence.

The $1.12 billion (£839,437 million) deal first announced in July lets a Chinese state company take over the southern port of Hambantota, which straddles the world’s busiest east-west shipping route, on a 99-year lease.

“With the signing of the agreement, the Treasury has received $300 million,” prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said at a cer­emony in the capital to mark the handover.

“This is the beginning of our debt settle­ment,” Wickremesinghe said.

The loss-making port will be jointly man­aged by the state-owned Sri Lanka Port Au­thority and China Merchants Port Holdings.

Sri Lanka owes China $8bn (£6bn) that former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s re­gime borrowed for its infrastructure devel­opment projects, including the port.

The deal has raised concerns at home and overseas. Countries such as India and the US are known to be worried that China getting a foothold at the deep-sea port could give it a military naval advantage in the Indian Ocean.

Last Friday (8), Sri Lanka’s parliament approved wide-ranging tax concessions for the port deal, including a tax holiday of up to 32 years for the Chinese firm, that oppo­sition parties objected to.

“Please tell this House the details of very favourable tax concessions you gave China on the deal. What are you getting out of it?” Anura Dissanayake, an opposition law mak­er asked in parliament last Saturday.

Sri Lanka has said that it wants to reduce its high foreign debt with the proceeds of the Hambantota port deal, and is planning to sell off several other enterprises in order to raise revenue.