China sends envoy to Sri Lanka amid stalled infrastructure schemes

China has dispatched a high-ranking envoy to Sri Lanka, where a new government has suspended a number of major infrastructure schemes financed and built by China.

China’s vice foreign minister Liu Zhenmin met with Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena yesterday to pledge China’s "fullest support" in the development of Sri Lanka, according to a Sri Lankan government statement.

It is the first high-level interaction between the two countries since early elections in August returned the national unity government of Sirisena and his prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe – a result that confirmed the defeat of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa in the election of January this year.

During his 10 years in power Rajapaksa developed close ties with China, and China began funding and building the majority of new infrastructure schemes in Sri Lanka, including a new airport, sea port and the $1.5bn Colombo Port City, an ambitious real estate and logistics development on land reclaimed from the sea.

Chinese president Xi Jinping attended the port city groundbreaking ceremony in September last year but the government of Maithripala Sirisena, who campaigned on a promise to loosen ties with China, suspended the project after defeating Rajapaksa in January.

The Sirisena government also suspended construction of a landmark communications tower funded by China, citing irregularities, and launched a probe into alleged corruption under the Rajapaksa government.

The Colombo Port City would be a strategic node in China’s "Maritime Silk Road" initiative, a long-term plan to develop infrastructure along shipping routes to facilitate Chinese exports.

In his meeting with the Chinese envoy yesterday, however, Sirisena invited China’s further help with building projects.

The Sri Lankan government’s account of the meeting recorded no mention of the port city project, but Sirisena reminded Liu Zhenmin about a hospital for kidney patients, which was to be built with Chinese government help.

In response Liu said a group of Chinese government officials were now carrying out a feasibility study and "taking required steps on that regard", according to the government statement.

Sirisena also "pointed out the importance" of resuming work on a second phase of the Chinese-built Hambantota Harbour.

Photograph: China’s vice foreign minister Liu Zhenmin (second from left) meeting with Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena (right) in Sri Lanka yesterday (Source: President’s Media Office)

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