Investment warning from Sri Lanka's president

World | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 2 Dec 2019

Sri Lanka's new president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has warned India and others that his country will have to seek finance from China again if they do not invest in the island.

Colombo has traditionally been allied to India but became close to Beijing - it secured the equivalent of US$7 billion (HK$54.4 billion) in loans and investment - when Gotabaya's brother Mahinda was president from 2005 to 2015.

"I want to tell India, Japan, Singapore and Australia and other countries to invest in us," said Gotabaya, who was in India this weekend on his first foreign trip since winning the presidency on November 16. "They should tell their companies to invest in Sri Lanka ... because if they do not then not only Sri Lanka but countries all over Asia will have the same [problem]."

India and other nations are wary of Beijing's Belt and Road scheme, fearing it will reinforce China's military spread. There is also concern that nations who have taken Chinese loans under the scheme risk falling into a debt trap.

China has allotted huge sums on ports, railways, roads and industrial parks in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

Rajapaksa also confirmed he wants to renegotiate a deal with Beijing on Hambantota, a port south of Colombo that serves international shipping routes. "The Sri Lankan government must have control of all strategically important projects like Hambantota," he told The Hindu newspaper. "The next generation will curse our generation for giving away precious assets otherwise."

Sri Lanka was forced to hand the port over to China in 2017 on a 99-year lease as it was unable to repay loans to Beijing.

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