Yu Zhengsheng, Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the fourth most important leader in China, visited Sri Lanka this week, he was pleasantly surprised to get a very warm reception.
“The warm hospitality I got was far beyond expectations,” Yu publicly declared on Thursday.
Yu had come on a two-day visit as head of an 80-member Chinese business delegation and had met President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to discuss the multi-billion dollar China-funded projects including the Hambantota port and the Colombo Port City.
While the US$ 1.4 billion Port City project has resumed after an year of suspension by the Sri Lankan government on charges of corruption, the Hambantota port project is held up over the division of stakes in a public-private sector joint venture to be established to run the port.
After initially agreeing to give 80% stake to the Chinese company, China Merchant Ports Holding Company (CMPort) for 99 years, the Sri Lankan government has now said that it will raise its stake to 40% after ten years following public protests over the deal which the opposition described as a “sellout”.
The Sri Lankan Ministry of Ports does not want to give up its ownership of the port to the proposed public-private joint venture company. It wants some earnings for itself to be written into the agreement.
The Chinese have not agreed to the proposed changes. China and Sri Lanka were to sign an agreement on the port on April 7 or 8, but this did not happen. Yu Zhengsheng did not even visit Hambantota port during his two day stay.
However, from the remarks made by Yu Zhengsheng it is apparent that the Chinese are willing to wait and be accommodative because China needs the Hambantota port for its global One Belt One Road project. The port is situated on the main East-West shipping route and has a depth of 17 meters which makes it the deepest in the Indian sub-continental region. The Chinese are probably wanting the Sri Lankans to settle their internal disputes first.
Speaking at a reception given by the Speaker of the Sri Lankan parliament, Karu Jayasuriya, at whose invitation he had come to Sri Lanka, Yu said that Sino-Sri Lankan relations were at a “new level” basically because China and Sri Lanka “trust each other”.
Yu recalled that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s dream is to build a “world community based on a shared future” and that his global projects are meant to “bring people together.”
China’s Ambassador in Sri Lanka Yi Xianliang said that Sino-Si Lankan relations have “stood the test of time” and the “future is filled with expectations.”
The Sri Lankan parliament Speaker Jayasuriya described China as Sri Lanka’s “all weather friend” and thanked it for the help it rendered in safeguarding the sovereignty and integrity of Sri Lanka during the separatist war. The on-going Chinese built and funded infrastructure projects in the island nation stand as “monuments” for the friendship, he added.
Jayasuriya said that Sri Lanka has had an abiding interest in being part of China’s 21 st. Century Maritime Silk Road project and the One Belt One Road project. The Chinese built Colombo Financial City would help Sri Lanka realize its goal of becoming a Financial Hub, he said.