Chinese defence minister General Wei Fenghe to visit Sri Lanka next week

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Chinese Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe will arrive in Sri Lanka next week on a three-day visit during which he will hold talks with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the government information department said on Thursday.

Gen Wei, who will arrive here on April 27, would be the second high ranking Chinese official to visit the island nation after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In October, Vice Chairman of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi visited the island nation.

During his visit, Gen Wei will hold talks with President Gotabaya, Prime Minister Mahinda and other senior government officials.

Gen Wei’s visit is set to coincide with a ruling by Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court which is likely to be delivered early next week on the constitutionality of the administrative body of the Chinese built port city on reclaimed sea.

Multiple petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court by Opposition parties, civil society groups and labour unions against the proposed controversial legislation on the Colombo Port City, alleging that the USD 1.4 billion project violated the country’s sovereignty, the Constitution and labour rights.

They want the bill to be subject to a referendum and a special two-thirds mandate in parliament.

The five-member bench of the Supreme Court has postponed the hearing to Friday.

A senior Sri Lankan minister said on Saturday that China-backed Port City in Colombo, which has been exempted from a series of local laws, is no threat to the country’s sovereignty and would only function as “a single window facilitation of business”.

The bill titled the Colombo Port City Economic Commission was gazetted on March 23 and the ruling Rajapaksa administration tabled it in Parliament early this month. The bill aims to provide for a special economic zone to establish a commission to grant registrations, licenses, authorisations and other approvals to operate business in such economic zones.

The Opposition parties have mounted against the proposed bill and some of government allies have also raised concerns over it.

The Colombo Port City project, expected to play a key role in China’s ambitious ‘Maritime Silk Road’ project in India’s backyard, is said to be the single largest private sector development ever in the island.

Sri Lanka in recent years carried out various development projects with an estimated USD eight billion loans.

The huge Chinese loans sparked concerns globally after Sri Lanka handed over the Hambantota port to China in 2017 as debt swap amounting to USD 1.2 billion for a 99 years’ lease.

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