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EXCLUSIVE: Sri Lanka seeking early start to Japan-backed port project

  • January 27, 2021
  • , Jiji Press , 7:24 p.m.
  • English Press

Tokyo, Jan. 27 (Jiji Press)–Sri Lanka will aim to begin a Japan-backed construction project at a port in Colombo “as soon as possible,” the country’s Ambassador to Japan Sanjiv Gunasekara said in a recent interview with Jiji Press.


Japan and the island country in the Indian Ocean signed a memorandum of cooperation in May 2019 for the project to construct a container terminal, but the initiative had been shelved for almost two years.


By clarifying that the project will go forward, Gunasekara, 55, suggested that Sri Lanka views Japan as an important partner.


Speaking at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Tokyo on Thursday, Gunasekara said that “my first priority is to clear any misunderstanding” about Sri Lanka being pro-China, as believed by some in Japan.


He noted that 94 pct of Sri Lankans view Japan favorably, making the East Asian country the most popular nation there, and argued that Sri Lanka is not solely committed to relations with China.


The ambassador said that the port terminal project was delayed because the Sri Lankan government was reviewing costly projects.


Sri Lanka experienced a foreign exchange crunch due to the novel coronavirus pandemic last year, with its tourism revenue plunging 90 pct, and exports and foreign remittances both sliding 40 pct, he said.


The project calls for the construction of a new container terminal in Colombo Port in Sri Lanka’s capital city. The Sri Lankan government will fund 51 pct of the initiative, while private-sector businesses from Japan and India will cover the remaining 49 pct.


Gunasekara said that Sri Lanka wants to build a close relationship with Japan, and called for support.


Sri Lanka has been cooperating with China’s One Belt, One Road regional development initiative, but some see the country as having fallen victim to China’s “debt trap.” Sri Lanka leased the southern Hambantota Port to a Chinese company in a 99-year deal, after becoming unable to repay a large Chinese loan. The port is located close to a major sea lane in the Indian Ocean.


Japan was also involved in a plan to introduce a light rail transit system in Colombo, but the project was axed last September.


Gunasekara previously lived in the United States for 36 years and was a successful businessman in the real estate industry.

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