By Shihar Aneez
COLOMBO– China’s Sinopec has, at a meeting with the island nation’s president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, pledged to invest in Sri Lanka’s southern district of Hambantota, President’s Media Division (PMD) said on Monday (13).
The move comes as Beijing is looking to consolidate investments in Sri Lanka’s ports and energy sector amid increasing security concerns raised by its immediate neighbour India, and the United States.
Wickremesinghe under the previous government has leased the $1.5 billion port built by Beijing to state-owned Chinese firms on a 99-year lease. China’s plans to establish a 15,00o-acre industrial zone around the port has yet to materialize.
The PMD said a discussion took place between the representatives of the Sinopec Group and President Wickremesinghe on Monday.
“President Ranil Wickremesinghe said that the government has taken a principled decision to expand the distribution of fuel & Hambantota has been identified as a primary energy hub,” the PMD said in a statement, adding that Sinopec has also pledged to invest in a refinery in Hambantota.
Sri Lanka has urged India to develop the Eastern port district of Trincomalee as the energy hub of South Asia. The India Oil Corporation (IOC) has already signed a joint venture with the state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) to develop the country’s only oil tank farm in Trincomalee.
The meeting with the Sinopec officials comes 10 days after President Wickremesinghe directed the petroleum minister and officials to swiftly carry out a plan to revive the Trincomalee oil tank farm and incorporate it into the country’s economy after an inspection tour of the Lanka Indian Oil Company (LIOC) oil tank farm in Trincomalee.
Sinopec, also known as China Petrochemical Corporation, is the largest refining company and the third largest chemical company in the world. It is the largest oil and petrochemical products supplier and the second largest oil and gas producer in China.
Its total number of gas stations ranks second in the world. It ranked 5th on Fortune’s Global 500 List in 2021.
China’s aggressive lending to Sri Lanka along with investments of billions of dollars has raised concerns of a plan to establish a military base in Hambantota.
Beijing has denied such a plan and said its move with Colombo has been always commercial.
The West led by the US has blamed China’s aggressive lending as a “debt trap” which has led Sri Lanka to face an unprecedented economic crisis amid sovereign debt default. However, both China and Sri Lanka have denied the “debt trap” accusation.
China, instead, had blamed Sri Lanka’s sovereign borrowing, which was mostly from the Western countries, as the debt trap and reason for the crisis.
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