China-backed Colombo port city under scanner over row on visiting charges

International

Colombo, Februaty 8: China-backed Colombo Port City has again come under the spotlight for wrong reasons after the authorities broke their promise and imposed variable charges on the people visiting the site.

Last month, the Colombo Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) Port City Co. Pvt Ltd, made a big promise. It committed itself not to charge any fee for personal photography and videography from visitors. It, however, declared that a variable charge would be collected for professional photography and videography, according to the Policy Research Group (POREG).

The Chinese company issued a press statement reiterating the assurance as well. And even issued an advisory: ‘Don’t pay any heed to speculation in the social media that you – the public -would need to pay to take selfies, pictures, or videos during casual visits to the port city area,” POREG reported.

The Policy group said the company from the land of Bamboo Capitalists rolled back on its promise. It has put in place a lot of paperwork by way of a visitor’s application and announced a rate card.

According to POREG, the rate card clearly mentions separate rates for personal and commercial photography and videography. And the application form seeks to know a lot of personal details. Clearly, the intention is to keep a vigil on visitors, say observers, and that such information is prone to be misused by the port city’s Chinese owners.

CHEC Head of Public Relations has confirmed the authenticity of payment requirements in the new directives. He has, however, denied any fee for personal photography and videography, POREG reported.

Colombo Port City (CPC) project was announced on Xi Jinping’s visit to Sri Lanka in 2014. It is a USD 1.4 billion flagship program under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Spread over 269 hectares of reclaimed land from the sea the venture represents Beijing’s single largest investment project in Sri Lanka.

Last year, Colombo Port City Project was approved in haste by the Sri Lankan government to serve China’s strategic interest in the island nation. Sri Lanka is facing economic challenges. The island nation’s fourth-largest lender is China.

Sri Lanka is influenced by China is understandable as the former wishes to make Colombo a major financial and services hub in South Asia through Chinese help through the Port City Project.

 

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