Mainstream, VOL LV No 15 New Delhi April 1, 2017
Trouble over China getting land in Sri Lanka
Sunday 2 April 2017, by
Trouble has broken out in Sri Lanka over its allocation of land to China for a supermarket and naval facilities. The government in Colombo had moved some shops and business houses from Hambantola to build an industrial zone for Chinese investors.
Last week thousands demonstrated at the inauguration of an industrial zone at Hambantola, as the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and Yi Xianliang, the Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka, came there for the inauguration of the zone. Thousands of protesters against the zone had to be driven away with water cannons and tear gas as they resisted against being moved away from their land, resisting notices of acquisition.
A Sri Lankan Government Minister said the Chinese investors had requested 15,000 acres of land there, but the Prime Minister said he would give only 1235. But even that area could not be surveyed because of public resistance.
The government has blamed the Opposition, in particular supporters of Mahinda Rajapaksa, a former President, for the discontent in Mambantola, as he called it Chinese colonisation.
The development of the port was initiated under Rajapaksa, who had been criticised for signing uncompetitive contracts that subjected Sri Lanka with heavy debts to the Chinese Government.
The new government plans to grant a state-controlled Chinese firm, called CM Port, an 80 per cent stake in a 99-year lease for $ 1.2 billion. It maintains that the industrial park there will attract five billion dollars in investment and create 100,000 jobs.
The signing of the lease on the port has been postponed, after Arjuna Ranatunga, the Ports and Shipping Minister, complained to the President, Maithripala Sirisena, about some clauses in the contract, one granting CM Port control over internal security and another allowing it to claim fees for navigation.
Rajapaksa, who used to be the Member of Parliament from Hambantola and still wields considerable political influence, is railing against giving the rights of landlord over the industrial zone to a foreign private company and raising concerns about control and sovereignty.
The author is a veteran journalist who writes on international affairs.