Colombo, Feb 16 (NIA) – Chinese businesses interested in investing in Sri Lanka may be running out of patience as protests against Chinese funded projects continue in the south of the country.
Speaking at the Colombo University Alumni Association here on Wednesday, China’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Yi Xianliang said that he had been able to persuade more than 10 ‘big’ Chinese CEOs to invest in the island country, but their patience may be running thin as local groups continue to protest against the projects.
China is funding a 15,000 acre economic zone in Hambantota in the island’s south and is also going to take over 80 percent of the Hambantota Port in order to manage its operations.
However local groups, mostly backed by former President Mahinda Rajapakse, have continued to clash with police over the projects, in fear that their lands may be taken forcefully.
However, speaking in capital Colombo, Yi said China had no intention of taking any lands without the permission of the families but warned investors could lose patience as the protests continued.
“I do believe these big projects will be most important for Sri Lanka in the future and in the initiative of the Silk Road. We either go ahead or we stop here. I remember the instruction of my President to ‘keep patient’. I have time, I am patient. But I am worried about the patience of the business people. I already persuaded more than 10 Chinese big CEOs to invest around 3 to 5 billion dollars in the next 2 to 3 years,” Yi said.
“But what is happening here? People are fighting. Against the police and protesters. So how can I persuade those CEOs. Most of them have fortunes. They cannot come time by time to talk with me. So I told them to go to Sri Lankan leaders to get an answer, not me,” Yi added.
While stressing that the Hambantota economic zone would be beneficial to Sri Lanka, he said that lands would not be taken from farmers without their consent.
He also added that as the first step to construct the economic zone, BOI lands would be taken.
“Yesterday I spoke with district secretariat. We will not get any lands from farmers. Presently, we will only use lands from BOI for the zone. Also there is some lands in the port,” he said.
Speaking on the benefits of the economic zone, Yi said that developed countries such as Singapore, US, Japan, all had special zones which had contributed to their economic development.
He said Thailand too had a special zone funded by China and its production outcome last year was 10 percent of the GDP of Thailand.
He said that the Hambantota economic zone belonged solely to the Sri Lankan government and the Sri Lankan people and China had no intention of taking over the land or using Sri Lanka to target any other country. “Some say Chinese will get 50 sq km from Sri Lanka. This is not true,” he said.
He further said China had no intention to intervene in Sri Lanka’s internal differences between politicians and political groups but added that these Chinese funded projects will be most important for Sri Lanka in the future.