China open to third countries’ roles in Hambantota

By Hu Weijia Source:Global Times Published: 2019/3/24 20:25:15

A general view of Sri Lanka's deep sea port facilities at Hambantota File photo: VCG

China is expected to adopt an open attitude toward the increasing presence of third countries in the Chinese-leased Hambantota port in Sri Lanka. Investment from third countries will help the port enhance its competitiveness, making the country a regional logistics hub standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Singapore.

Oman Oil Minister Mohammed bin Hamad Al Rumhy was quoted by Reuters as saying on Sunday that he was excited to be part of an oil refinery project that will be built near Hambantota port. China said on Thursday it will not be "narrow-minded" and oppose investment from India or other countries in Sri Lanka. 

The report came after Oman denied knowing about its part in the project. Sri Lankan officials announced Tuesday that Oman's oil ministry planned to take a 30 percent stake and a Singapore company controlled by India's Accord Group would hold the other 70 percent.

This sudden attitude change by Oman has nothing to do with China's role in the Hambantota port. China's attitude toward third countries' investment in the port is consistent and won't change in the foreseeable future.

The Reuters report on Sunday showed Oman has a strong desire to invest in Sri Lanka, and the country doesn't want to give up the planned oil refinery project. China is reportedly the biggest buyer of Omani oil. It is understandable the country is interested in investing in Sri Lanka's oil refinery project, at a time when China's investment in the Hamboantota port makes the island a potential logistics hub for Oman's oil tankers headed toward China.

As a key project of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Hambantota port is making Sri Lanka an increasingly attractive investment destination for third countries, including Oman and India. 

Although the Indian government has declined to endorse the BRI, Indian companies cannot seem to resist the temptation of benefits brought by the initiative. China welcomes them to share the opportunities of the BRI, and it hopes their involvement can change New Delhi's attitude toward the BRI.

With those benefits, foreign investors' enthusiasm for Sri Lanka is likely to stimulate economic growth in the island country, making it possible for Sri Lanka to copy Singapore's development model to become a global logistics hub.

Some Western media outlets have criticized Sri Lanka for leasing the Hambantota port to China for 99 years, but if China's role in the port can bring tangible benefits to the local economy, the 99-year lease doesn't matter. Like China, Sri Lanka's primary strategy is to promote economic and social development. As long as the port can stimulate Sri Lanka's economic growth, the 99-year lease is necessary. 

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


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