China to push ahead with Hambantota port project

Beijing will push forward with a plan to develop Hambantota port, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a phone call with his Sri Lankan counterpart amid reports that Colombo was seeking to renegotiate the agreement, the South China Morning Post reported.

In the call with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena on Wednesday, Wang said both countries would continue to cooperate to turn the Hambantota and Colombo ports into “the twin engines” of Sri Lanka’s industrial development and economic growth, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement.

The call came after reports suggesting the South Asian nation was reconsidering the deal.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who indicated he wanted to renegotiate the deal soon after he took office in 2019, was recently said to be revisiting the port deal.

Gunawardena added to uncertainty over the deal on Saturday, telling a newspaper that “the previous government made a mistake on the Hambantota port deal when they cancelled the lease and gave it on a longer period of 99 years plus another 99 years once the first term ends”.

On Wednesday, China denied the deal was being renegotiated, with foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin instead saying the port’s operations were expanding.

Also on Wednesday, Gunawardena was quoted in the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement as saying China was Sri Lanka’s “closest friend” and offered “heartfelt gratitude” to Beijing’s economic and diplomatic support. (Colombo Gazette)