By Our Political Correspondent
Colombo, Jan 10 (NIA) – The anti China protests held in the southern town of Hambantota over the last weekend and the recent anti China remarks made by opposition legislators loyal to former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, have led to the question whether the strong relationship between Rajapaksa and China has finally turned sour.
Just a few months ago, China’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Yi Xianliang, in a press meet with local journalists confided that Rajapaksa was still a good friend of China. However three months later things seem to be different.
Rajapaksa himself has not been silent about China’s role in the island under the present government. Just recently, in a meeting with Sri Lanka-based foreign journalists in Colombo, the former President asked why 15,000 acres had been handed over to China in his electorate of Hambantota to construct an economic zone. He said this move would deprive people of agricultural land.
Rajapaksa went further to say that under his regime, he wanted to give the Chinese only 750 acres.
“We’re worried about it. We don’t mind an industrial park coming in, but not like this. 15,000 acres is too much. We wanted to give 750 acres (under the last regime). When they (China) asked for 1,000 acres, I said no,” Reuters quoted Rajapaska as saying.
These remarks do not seem to have gone well with China. Sources said that Beijing had received a recording of Rajapaksa’s statements.
Highly placed political sources also said that China seemed to be clearly miffed about Rajapakse’s behavior especially after it is alleged that during a recent visit to China, the former leader had assured the Chinese leaders that he would cooperate with the Chinese projects which are to be set up in Hambantota.
However when the former leader returned home, his sentiments were different.
Rajapaksa told the Foreign Correspondent Association (FCA) meeting last month that he had discussed his concerns with Chinese officials when he visited Beijing on a one-week visit in November.
He said he was not against the Chinese or Indians or Americans coming to Sri Lanka for investment. But he was against land being given to them on long leases and the privatization policy of the government.
However, speaking in parliament on Monday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe challenged Rajapakse to reveal the true reasons behind his visit to China in November. Wickremesinghe said that while Rajapaksa is being critical of China’s latest investments in Hambantota, he had visited China recently and welcomed investments to the country.
“Rajapaksa has given an assurance to China but is going back on his word now. If he continues this, he will lose a very good friend,” United National Parliamentarian Ajith Perera told NewsIn.Asia.
He added that Rajapaksa and his loyalists are maintaining an anti China stance clearly because they do not want Chinese investments coming in.
China’s displeasure over the anti China sentiments in Rajapaksa’s electorate of Hambantota was clearly visible when the China’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Yi Xianliang, in his speech at the launch of the Sri Lanka- China Economic Zone on Saturday said that ‘no negative force’ can stop the assistance China is providing to Sri Lanka, and China would continue its strong friendship with the island country.
“With all this, no negative force can stop the assistance and corporation which China is giving Sri Lanka, and no one can stop this strong friendship,” Yi said.
He further termed Sri Lanka as the ‘most friendly’ country for China which is why it is China’s ‘highest priority’ to invest in Sri Lanka.
The Joint Opposition (JO) legislators however have a different view. JO Parliamentarian Udaya Gammanpila said that the JO including former President Mahinda Rajapaksa do not oppose China’s presence in Hambanota but they are against any foreign country’s involvement in the Hambantota Port.
“This Port will be crucial to determine Sri Lanka’s role in the future. Such assets should be under our country’s control only. The government says it is giving China an 80 percent stake on a 99 year lease. But after 99 years China will be reluctant to move out. Our opinion is that we should not invite anybody to manage our important assets whom we cannot tell to go. These assets should be within our control,” Gammanpila said.
He further said that Mahinda Rajapaksa continues to maintain a strong friendship with China.
(The picture above is courtesy AP)