01/20/2015, 00.00
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Moving away from China, Sri Lanka puts Chinese "mega-projects" on hold

Maithripala Sirisena, Sri Lanka's newly elected president, wants closer ties to India. The new government is convinced that Chinese-funded project will cost the country. It also plans to renegotiate its position vis-à-vis the International Monetary Fund.

Colombo (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Sino-Sri Lankan "economic" friendship could soon be a thing of the past. Sri Lanka's new government announced that it plans to review a number of projects, worth billions of dollars, granted by the previous government to China.

According to many analysts, the move is another sign that newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena wants to distance himself from former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was unseated on 8 January.

On Friday, the government said it would review a US$ 1.5 billion port deal with China Communication Construction Co over concerns that the company is getting land on a freehold basis in a high-security zone.

That port project had been of particular concern for India, the destination for the majority of the transhipment cargo through Colombo.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa came to depend heavily on China for infrastructure in the wake of a devastating civil war.

Since the end of the almost three-decade civil war in May 2009, he borrowed more than US$ 6 billion for mega projects in a country with a US$ 76 billion economy.

During the campaign, Rajapaksa's opponents often pointed out that many projects financed by Chinese loans were too expensive, and that in most cases they had very low returns on investment. One of the projects singled out was a US$ 277 million airport in Rajapaksa's home constituency of Hambantota.

Two other facts are indicative of the disaffection between Sri Lanka and China. The first is the arrival yesterday in New Delhi of Mangala Samaraweera, Sri Lanka's new Foreign Affairs Minister, where he met his Indian counterpart.

In explaining the choice of India as the first country for an official visit of the new government, he said that it "reflects our priorities."

The second is Colombo's decision to meet the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce interest costs on the country's US$ 55 billion debt, a leftover from the previous administration.


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