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Sri Lankan PM refutes NYT report on Chinese pressure over port

The Sri Lankan prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe on Thursday refuted a report by the New York Times which claimed that China had pressurised the government to handover Hambantota port in order to rectify mounting debts. 

“I must say that the Chinese government never pressurised Sri Lanka on this matter," Mr Wickremesinghe told MPs during a special statement in parliament. 

"What the Chinese government wanted us to do was to get proposals from Chinese companies to come up with proposals to run the Port initially. The proposal from China Merchant Port was most beneficial for Sri Lanka. China Merchant Port agreed to invest USD 1,080 million on the port. Chinese President and the government as a whole was agreeable for this proposal. Accordingly, the Chinese Company and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority entered into an agreement following the cabinet approval. China Merchant paid USD 293 million on December 2017 and USD 97 million in January 2018. The company has paid the remaining USD 589 million as of today. This is a victory as far as the people in this country are concerned."

"Rajapaksa government borrowed funds and constructed a port without ships. Our government had been able to settle the debts and to convert the port into a profit making one. It has not been sold out. What we did was to set up a joint venture to run the Port. Hambantota would be a developed port in the future," he claimed. 

His statement comes amid the intimidation of journalists involved in the NYT investigation by senior Sri Lankan lawmakers.

Condemning such intimidation the NYT editor, Michael Slackman said “it is unacceptable for journalists to be intimidated in this way. This action appears intended to silence critics and curb press freedoms, and ultimately deprive Sri Lankans of information in the public interest.”