Sri Lanka should protect the interests of the Chinese companies working in the island nation implementing projects worth billions of dollars, Beijing said on Wednesday, hours before Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena was slated to arrive here on a four-day China visit.
Sirisena will arrive in Beijing late on Wednesday night amid increasing concerns about ongoing Chinese projects in Sri Lanka including the now-suspended 1.4 billion USD Colombo Port City Project (CPCP).
The ambitious project involving building hotels and offices after reclaiming of land from the sea off the Colombo coast was inaugurated by President Xi Jinping when he visited Sri Lanka late last year.
It was suspended when Sirisena came to power in a surprise win over incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa who was considered close to China and dependent on the investments being pumped in by Beijing for large-scale infrastructure projects.
Sirisena’s coming to power, according to anaylysts, signaled that Colombo would recalibrate its foreign policy veering towards India; Sirisena’s first foreign visit as President was to India, China his second.
Talking about Chinese projects in Sri Lanka, foreign ministry spokesperson,, Hua Chunying, said on Tuesday that China hopes that Sri Lanka protects the interests of Chinese companies working in Sri Lanka.
Without directly mentioning the CPCP, Hua said China respects the decisions of the Lankan government, adding that Beijing was always ready to help the island nation to improve livelihood through mutually beneficial cooperation.
Earlier this month, Chinese state media reported that China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), a subsidiary of the China Harbour Engineering Company, implementing the port project had incurred massive losses because of its suspension.
“As a result of this suspension, CCCC estimates an initial direct loss for the company of over 380,000 U.S. dollars per day. Furthermore, the interest on the financial loan obtained by the company for the development of the project is being paid, regardless of the ongoing suspension,” the company was quoted as saying in a statement.
Sirisena reaches Beijing a day after a controversial statement made by his finance minister in Colombo who was quoted as saying that Chinese companies working in Sri Lanka were corrupt.
“What we want to tell the (Chinese) president is that the government of China is clean, but Chinese companies (operating in Sri Lanka) are corrupt,” finance minister Ravi Karunanayake was quoted as saying on Tuesday.
“We are basically saying, look at the costs these people have quoted and look at the internationally accepted rate,” he told reporters.
The Lankan President will meet Xi on Thursday and the two are expected to sign various new agreements.
Sirisena will then attend the Boao Economic Forum being held in picturesque Hainan off China’s southern coast.