July 05, Colombo: Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliament today that the Chinese Government had never pressured Sri Lanka with respect to the Hambanthota Harbor.
"I say with responsibility that we had no pressure. We could have had many options, we could have followed whatever we wanted," the Premier said.
The Prime Minister made this remark delivering a special statement in parliament today in response to the claims made by the recent the New York Times article that the present government was under heavy pressure from China to handover the Hambantota Port to them since the government was struggling to pay the loans obtained from China by the previous regime to build the port.
He said what the Chinese government requested was to first call for proposals from Chinese companies to run the Port initially. Accordingly open proposal were called from Chinese companies.
"Out of the proposals we received the most advantageous proposal for us was the one forwarded by the China Merchant Port Holdings. They proposed to create an industrialization of the area and to bring the ships to the port. The company had the capability," he said.
He said the China Merchant Port agreed to invest USD 1,080 million on the port and Chinese President and the government expressed their complete agreement to the proposal.
Accordingly, following the cabinet approval the Chinese Merchant Port Company and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority entered into an agreement on 23 December 2016 to form a company to conduct the operations of the port.
China Merchant paid USD 293 million on December 2017 and USD 97 million in January 2018. The company has paid the remaining USD 589 million as of today. In addition, a plan has been forwarded to build the infrastructure facilities in the area. A LNG power plant has been approved and requests have been made to the BOI for other investments, he said.
"This is a victory for the people in this country as well as for the government. The Rajapaksa government borrowed billions of dollars and built a port without ships. But now ships have begun to arrive and the Harbor is making profits. It would be transformed into a developed harbor," he said.
The Prime Minister emphasized that not a single property of the island had been sold to any foreign country. He pointed out that even the Hambanthota Harbor had not been sold. He said that even the Mattala International Airport is to be made a viable venture.