India has said it is keeping an eye on the China-backed Colombo Port City project in Sri Lanka that is being touted as a big ticket investment drawing scheme which would boost the island nation’s economy, Live Mint reported.
The project has been in the works for a while but this week, the Sri Lankan parliament approved the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill after a two-day debate on it. The Opposition parties in Sri Lanka are against the bill which they say will lead to the creation of a Chinese colony in Sri Lanka. The 225-member Sri Lankan Parliament approved the bill 148-59, according to news reports.
“I don’t think we have formally raised this issue” with the Sri Lankan government, a person familiar with the matter said on Thursday. “But our concerns on this matter are evident,” the person said against the backdrop of reports that the Chinese backed project was at a distance of about 300 kilometers from India. India views China as a strategic rival and the project in India’s sphere of influence – ie within South Asia that New Delhi considers its backyard – is a matter of concern for India.
“We have certain benchmarks – it should be transparent, there is talk of who will it benefit, is it China….we hope that the concerns that the Sri Lankans have themselves raised are addressed within the framework of the Sri Lankan democracy and that if there are other issues to it, it should follow the principles of openness, transparency and financial responsibility,” the person said. “And of course that respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Sri Lanka.
“So I think those elements are important that it (the project) should be following internationally recognised norms… and any development that happens so near to our country we will of course keep a very close eye on that, on whether in any way it impacts our security. But at this point I think there are discussions within Sri Lanka, queries and questions, what are the implications of this for Sri Lanka itself,” the person said.
“If it is commercial venture only, then we don’t have much to say, thats their choice. But if there are other elements we will certainly have a look at it,” the person said.
The $ 1.4-billion Colombo Port City project is expected to play a key role in China’s ambitious ‘Maritime Silk Road’ project in India’s backyard. It is also said to be the single largest private sector development in Sri Lanka. China has built the port city on reclaimed sea, adjoining the Port of Colombo.
The Port city bill aims to provide for a special economic zone to establish a commission to grant registrations, licenses, authorisations and other approvals to operate business in such economic zones. On the importance of the bill, the Sri Lankan government on Wednesday said the port city would attract foreign direct investment, giving the much-needed impetus to the economy. Sri Lanka’s Minister for Capital Markets Ajith Cabraal projected that the initial construction of the port city would bring in investment of $ 15 billion, creating over 200,000 jobs. Sri Lanka, in recent years, has carried out various development projects with an estimated $ 8-billion in loans.
India views China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Maritime Silk Route as ventures of Beijing to boost its own influence in the world and saddle countries, taking China’s loans for the projects within the initiatives, with debt. New Delhi has also objected to the environmental costs of the projects.