One of China’s largest state-owned companies that was behind the controversial Hambantota port project concluded its first $ 13 billion contract in the Sri Lankan port city, weeks after the United States criticized the Chinese government for acting as a “predator” in the island nation.
China Harbor Engineering Company Limited (CHEC), a subsidiary of the state-owned giant China Communications Construction Company Limited (CCCC), signed a $ 1 billion deal Thursday with Browns Investments, an arm of Sri Lankan conglomerate LOLC Group, for the development of the Colombo International Financial Center (CIFC).
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and China’s envoy to Sri Lanka, Qi Zhenhong, were present at the signing ceremony in Colombo. “Attracting foreign direct investment is a priority of our government. This unique project is a powerful example of Sri Lanka’s return to business, ”Rajapaksa said in the media.
Rajapaksa tweeted that the financial center will be the first FDI project within Port City and that “this benchmark project is a strong indicator that [Sri Lanka] now it is back in business ”.
China Harbor Engineering Company was also the company involved in the controversial Hambantota Port development project. After struggling for years to pay off the debts related to the project, Sri Lanka handed over the port and 15,000 acres around it to China for 99 years in December 2017.
There has been no immediate response from Indian officials on the development.
Five subsidiaries of the CCCC were among 24 Chinese companies added to a blacklist by the US Department of Commerce on August 26 this year to “help the Chinese military build and militarize internationally condemned artificial islands in the South China Sea “.
Two months later, during a visit to Sri Lanka, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned the leadership of the island nation about Chinese investment and influence. A strong and sovereign Sri Lanka, he said, could be a “beacon for a free and open Indo-Pacific”, and this was a “contrast to what China seeks.”
“We see from bad business, sovereignty violations and lawlessness on land and sea that the Communist Party of China is a predator, and the United States comes in a different way, we come as friends and as partners,” Pompeo said at a news conference after. the meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Pompeo’s comments were quickly dismissed by the Chinese embassy, which tweeted that Beijing was only promoting cooperation with Colombo.
The port city, which will be built on 660 acres reclaimed from the sea on the Colombo waterfront, has made a comeback since the Rajapaksa family returned to power and reports suggest that China will play the leading role in the construction as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. .
While responding to criticism that Sri Lanka is once again giving China a key role in infrastructure projects despite the Hambantota port debacle, Sri Lankan officials argued that the United States and others were not offering enough financial support to the country.
“We reached out to all of our friends, including the World Bank and India … The only entity that came to our aid in a hurry was China,” said Palitha Kohona, who recently took up the post of Sri Lankan ambassador to China. Wall Street Journal last month, talking about Sri Lanka’s efforts to secure financial support for projects like Port City.