Another country is trying to push back from the embrace of China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI).
Citing national interest, Sri Lanka’s new government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has made clear it is keen to cancel the previous regime’s move to lease the southern port of Hambantota to state-backed China Merchants.
A number of other port plans around the world where Chinese investment is involved have faced pushback in recent years with governments changing, notably a massive project on Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coastline.
Two years ago China Merchants Port Holdings Co concluded a $1.1 bn 99-year lease to develop Hambantota, a move hailed at the time as helping transform the island into a major maritime hub.
“We would like them to give it back,” Ajith Nivard Cabraal, a former central bank governor and an economic adviser to prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, told Bloomberg in an interview this week. “The ideal situation would be to go back to status quo. We pay back the loan in due course in the way that we had originally agreed without any disturbance at all.”
China is unlikely to quit this strategically important port anytime soon however.
“China-Sri Lanka cooperation, including the Hambantota port project, are built on the basis of equality and consultation,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement sent to Bloomberg. “China looks forward to working with Sri Lanka to make Hambantota a new shipping hub in the Indian Ocean and developing the local economy.”
Other countries to have curtailed Chinese BRI infrastructure plans recently include Malaysia and Myanmar.