Chinese Investors' Patience 'Running Thin' as Hambantota Port Protest Continues: Envoy Yi Tells Sri Lanka
China's envoy to Sri Lanka Yi Xianliang has warned that Chinese investors planning to set up a Chinese-funded Economic Zone could run out of patience if the agitation over the Hambantota port acquisition continues.
"I had been able to persuade more than ten big Chinese CEOs to invest in the island country, but their patience may be running thin as local groups continue to protest against the projects," Yi said, according to the Newsin. "I do believe these big projects will be most important for Sri Lanka in the future and in the China's Silk Road project. We either go ahead, or we stop here."
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Local activists, backed by trade unions and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, have been conducting protests against the land acquisition as residents said they fear that their lands will be seized. The Chinese ambassador, on the other hand, has maintained that China has no intention of taking any privately owned lands without seeking permission. He also stated that the lands provided by the Ports Authority and the Board of Investment are enough.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that the $1.1 billion investment would be delayed as Sri Lanka is still working on clearing legal and political hurdles, sources with knowledge of the matter said. China Merchants Port Holdings had been slated to buy an 80 percent stake of the Hambantota Port before the Jan. 7 target date.
China also made a separate agreement with Colombo to develop a 15,000-acre industrial zone. However, the deal, which Sri Lanka hopes to finalize, has been met with stiff local opposition. Currently, the deal would be held off until Colombo also resolved local issues.
Geng Shuang, Chinese foreign minister, said that the Hambantota Port initiative was important for both China and Sri Lanka. "As far as we understand, at present, the project is still progressing steadily," he said.