MR: Govt,China should stick to original plan

Hambantota development project


By Shamindra Ferdinando

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has suggested to China that it stick to the original Hambantota development project to avert possible protests by the local community.

The former President pointed out that it would be better for the Chinese to initially utilise 750 acres as originally planned.

The former leader was responding to recent declarations that the Hambantota project had been expanded following talks between the incumbent government and the Chinese.

Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema recently declared that the Chinese wanted 15,000 acres in the Hambantota District for large scale projects. State Finance Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, too, discussed the proposed establishment of Special Chinese Economic Zone.

The issue has been addressed during recent talks between top Chinese representatives and former

President Rajapaksa in Beijing, Former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, too, participated in the discussions.

Prof. Peiris told The Island that the take over of agricultural land as well as displacement of villagers could trigger protests. Therefore, it would be necessary to review projects. The proposed Hambantota project was a key segment in the country’s overall development plan.

During a week long visit, the former President and the post-war External Affairs Minister had engagements in Beijing, Guanzhon and Shen Zen, two cities in the Southern China.

The delegation assured the Chinese that China-Sri Lanka projects wouldn’t be criticised on narrow political grounds. "Unlike the current rulers we’ll not undermine projects meant to assist Sri Lanka in post-war recovery process."

Chinese officials appreciated the previous government for reiterating its support to the continuation of projects initiated during the Rajapaksa administration. They have also appreciated the former President’s role in enhancing the relationship between the two countries. There had been a reference to upgrading of China-Sri Lanka relationship to the level of a strategic partnership during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Colombo in Sept 2014 to launch the Colombo Port City project.

"We said it was a great pity that the incumbent government for entirely political reasons suspended the Colombo Port City project for one and half years", according to the former External Affairs Minister.

Had the project been allowed to continue regardless of change of government in January 2015, substantial progress would have been made by now, Prof. Peiris said. Having severely criticized the Chinese in the run-up to presidential polls, those in power today foolishly suspended the flagship Chinese project soon after the presidential polls.

Now that the government had belatedly realised its folly, the project was put back on track, Prof Peiris said, while stressing the pivotal importance of securing the fullest support of the Sri Lankans to the ongoing projects.

The former President and the then External Affairs Minister profusely thanked China for backing its war against the LTTE and solidly standing by the government of Sri Lanka at various international fora, including the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

China remained a key wespons supplier throught the war.

Chinese officials told the Sri Lankan delegation that it was strongly opposed to external interference in domestic affairs Sri Lanka and the continuing efforts to use human rights as a political tool.

Prof. Peiris said that during discussions, he had an opportunity to explain the circumstances under which a new political outfit was set up. The UNP-SLFP coalition had turned the latter to an appendage of the former, Prof. Peiris said. Therefore, the genuine Opposition felt the need to set up a new political outfit to fill what Prof. Peiris described as a huge gap in the political landscape in Sri Lanka.

Prof. Peiris, who heads the new political party said that he established the first overseas branch of the party in Shen Zen, situated close to Hong Kong.

Asked whether they had been trying to interfere in the incumbent government – China relationship, Prof. Peiris emphasized that nothing could be further from the truth. Prof. Peiris said that the former President hadn’t utter a word to undermine Sri Lanka’s interests since the change of government unlike those yahapalana rulers. Those who had been vociferously anti-Chinese in the run-up to presidential and parliamentary polls in 2015 had to eat humble pie, Prof. Peiris said. Current efforts to woo Chinese had proved that the previous government’s policy vis a vis Beijing was right. "The bottom line is that Sri Lanka cannot do without Chinse investments," Prof. Peiris said, urging the government to maintain equal relations with all countries.

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