Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said yesterday that the Port City project would operate as a joint Sri Lanka-China venture and be incorporated into the larger megapolis plan, in which even Indian businesses could invest. “Some of the Indian companies have told me they are interested in coming to the Port City. It’s a joint venture. [...]


Port City part of megapolis, financial hub of Asia: PM


Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said yesterday that the Port City project would operate as a joint Sri Lanka-China venture and be incorporated into the larger megapolis plan, in which even Indian businesses could invest.

“Some of the Indian companies have told me they are interested in coming to the Port City. It’s a joint venture. There will be the Chinese company and there will be the Sri Lankan company and we want to put 40 percent out into the stock market. The Indian companies can also invest in the Sri Lankan venture,” he told a news conference in China’s capital Beijing at the end of a four-day official visit.

Work begins at the Port City Project site. Pic by Indika Handuwala

The Prime Minister said that when the new Government took over, many foreign investments and local projects were reviewed to ensure they conformed to the laws of Sri Lanka, environment policies and were transparent.

During extensive talks in Beijing, the Prime Minister and his delegation met China’s President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Li Keqiang and the National People’s Congress’ Standing Committee Chairman Zhang Dejiang, while another important event was a full scale discussion with about 500 potential Chinese investors.

The Prime Minister said the main issue with the controversial Port City project was the transfer of freehold land. “The Government in Sri Lanka like the Government of China does not believe in transferring freehold land but we give 99-year leases .We keep to the principle that the final decision on state land is with the Government of Sri Lanka,” the Prime Minister said.

He said the Port City was a landfill project and it was also real estate but the Government had now brought it into its economic plan. “Sri Lanka has been looking to establish a financial and business hub in the Indian Ocean. And we selected the Port City to be the location. So from being landfill and real estate, it is becoming a financial hub,” he said.

The Prime Minister acknowledged that the Chinese company had asked for additional compensation in view of the fact that there has been a delay but said, “if we ask them for payment for turning the Port City into a financial hub, they may have to pay us. But I think we can talk and settle. There won’t be too much of a problem.”

He explained that the Port City was an investment project and the investment status given to it had been guaranteed. “We are not changing it even though we are changing our investment policy. What has been given to the Port City has not been changed. The Port City is an investment project but we do have a high level of debt and because of the present status of the global economy and the fact that our revenue collections are low; we are also diversifying our export earnings. We have been talking with some companies and also the Government of China the instances of infrastructural projects becoming public private partnerships in which part of the debt will become equity held by the Chinese companies,” he added.

The Premier said what the Government was trying to do was to create more space for new loans to be utilised especially in the social sector like education and other areas.  “As far as the Port City is concerned it is an investment project and all we have done is turn it into a joint venture in which the Chinese company and the Sri Lankan company will be there and change its nature from landfill real estate into a business hub of south Asia.

“We have been discussing with the Chinese Government and the Chinese banks on what we should do. The Port city is part of a bigger plan – the Megapolis – of turning the Western Province into a megapolis of eight million people, the biggest city in the Indian Ocean. And there will be more opportunities for infrastructure development by the Chinese and other companies in the megapolis itself.”

He said the Port City would itself have its own economy, its own jurisdiction and, as Sri Lanka did in 1977 when it started the Greater Colombo Economic Commission (GCEC), its separate economic and commercial laws.

“This will operate till the rest of the economy gets integrated with the international economy and the Port City. Basically we would like to have an area in which money can freely move in and out as long as it complies with the present standards of anti-corruption and money laundering and it will be easier to do business around the Indian Ocean.”

The Prime Minister said there were no security issues in the Port City. “We have discussed that with India also and we are prepared to discuss it further. This is not going to be a Sri Lanka-China enterprise. It is going to be open to everyone. We want to make it an Asian area. There is no question of any security problem and Indian security issues have been addressed by us. There will be further discussions with India.

“The Port City and the megapolis is not a threat to anyone. It is a chance for everyone to make money. Sri Lanka will not allow the security of any SAARC member to be threatened.”

Meanwhile in a joint statement issued at the conclusion of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s visit to China, the two countries expressed willingness to maintain close defence relations and reiterated the need to continue the cooperation on defense and security related issues.

The leaders of the two countries had an in-depth exchange of views in a warm and friendly atmosphere and reached broad consensus on China-Sri Lanka relations as well as on regional and international issues of mutual interest, the joint statement said.

The two sides reaffirmed their mutual support on issues of common interest and respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, stability and development of their countries and reiterated their adherence to the Five Principle of Peaceful Co-existence and to abide by the basic norms of international law of non-interference in internal affairs of other countries.

Sri Lanka reiterated its active participation in the One-Belt-One Road initiative put forward by China, as Sri Lanka was in ancient times, the centre of the Indian Ocean trade and, intends to re-establish this status once more and the two sides agreed to promote mutually beneficial cooperation for development. Sri Lanka said it shared the interest of China in building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road for greater economic cooperation, which will be a road of friendship, economic cooperation, socio and cultural exchange and connectivity.

The two sides also agreed to draw an overall plan to promote joint efforts to celebrate next year the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Sri Lanka. During the visit, the two sides signed agreements covering areas of trade and investment, science and technology, health, judiciary, and other areas.

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