Sri Lanka unveils new China-funded seaport in south

Sri Lanka has unveiled a new seaport,
the showpiece among a series of big new infrastructure projects on the island.

The port in southern Hambantota was
built with Chinese assistance as part of a $6bn (£3.8bn) drive to rebuild
infrastructure after the war.

It has four terminals, two for cargo and
two for fuel bunkering. A second, equally big, phase is being built.

The government hopes the port will get
business from some of the 70,000 ships that cross the Indian Ocean each year.

The first ships will arrive in November.

Sea water was released into the new port
by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, breaching the remaining piece of land
separating the site from the Indian Ocean.

About a metre’s depth of seawater will
flow in each day for nearly three weeks.

“It is not sea water that will fill
this port, but the future prosperity of our nation. From this port will emerge
our true economic independence, ” he said in a speech.

For two years, men and machines have
been gouging out a huge chunk of Sri Lankan land, says the BBC’s Charles
Haviland in Sri Lanka.

Mr Rajapaksa paid tribute to the
project’s financier, China, in his speech. Most of the project’s workers are
Chinese, employees of two state-owned companies, and China’s Exim Bank has lent
85% of the cost.

China is now the biggest lender to Sri
Lanka – it is also funding a large coal power station, roads and railways, and
an airport near the new seaport.

The government says the ever-closening
ties with China are purely commercial.

But some geopolitical analysts speculate
that this port’s future phases might afford Beijing a naval facility, a
prospect that worries Sri Lanka’s close neighbour and major benefactor, India.

The government tends to speak of this
new port in nationalistic terms, our correspondent adds.

President Rajapaksa told the crowd on
Sunday in his home-town that this day revived the same feelings of pride and
victory as the end of the civil war did.

“We have dug into the earth, broken
great rocks, overcome inland and foreign threats,” he said. “We have
now entered the path to being the true Wonder of Asia.”