Maldivian opposition leader says he will renegotiate terms of China-funded projects

The Maldivian opposition leader, Mohamed Nasheed, has said he will renegotiate the terms of Chinese-funded projects to see if they are fair and in the best interest of the country.

PK Balachandran, Sri Lanka
Published : 29 March 2017, 03:15 PM
Updated : 29 March 2017, 03:15 PM

“We will learn from the experience of Sri Lankan Ports Minister Arjuna Ranatunga in re-negotiating the deal over Chinese built Hambantota port,” Nasheed told Colombo-based foreign correspondents on Wednesday.

Ranatunga is waging a lone battle within the government against its bid to give an 80 percent stake in the deep-water Hambantota port to state-owned China Merchants Port Holdings Company for an upfront payment of $1.2 billion.

Ranatunga is being backed by the Joint Opposition led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa which is forcing the government to tone down the Chinese stake to 60 percent though only after ten years.

When in opposition, the present Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, had roundly criticised the Rajapaksa government for circumventing bidding process and bartering away big ticket infrastructure projects to the Chinese on terms unfavourable to Sri Lanka. He had stopped the projects for almost year to conduct investigations, but had to resume the projects because of an $8 billion loan to be repaid to the Chinese.

Nasheed, who is leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party, the largest of the opposition parties in the Indian Ocean country, said that when he or any opposition leader becomes president in the 2018 election, the Chinese projects will be re-examined.

But this is not going to be easy to do because 70 to 80 percent of the Maldives’ external debt is to China, he noted. He is hoping to follow Sri Lankan Minister Ranatunga’s “strategy” in renegotiating with China.

The Maldivian leader, who was his country’s president from 2008 to 2012 when he was unceremoniously ousted, said China is not transparent in its dealings and it prefers to work with authoritarian regimes, being itself authoritarian. He also said he will not say that China has no territorial interests in the Maldives.