Sri Lanka president warns West investment needed to keep China at bay

Sri Lanka’s new president Gotabaya Rajapaksa wants “India, Japan, Singapore and Australia and other countries to also come and invest in us.” (AFP)
Updated 01 December 2019

Sri Lanka president warns West investment needed to keep China at bay

  • Gotabaya Rajapaksa: Other Asian nations would also turn to China’s giant Belt and Road infrastructure project without alternative help
  • ‘The Chinese will take the Belt and Road initiative all over unless other countries provide an alternative’

NEW DELHI: Sri Lanka’s new president Gotabaya Rajapaksa has warned India and Western nations that his country will be forced to seek finance from China again if they do not invest in the island.
Rajapaksa told the Hindu newspaper in an interview published Sunday that other Asian nations would also turn to China’s giant Belt and Road infrastructure project without alternative help.
Sri Lanka has traditionally been allied to India but became close to China, securing about $7 billion in loans and investment, when Rajapaksa’s brother Mahinda was president from 2005 to 2015.
“I want to tell India, Japan, Singapore and Australia and other countries to also come and invest in us,” said the president, who was in India this weekend on his first foreign trip since winning a presidential election on November 16.
“They should tell their companies to invest in Sri Lanka and help us grow, because if they do not, then not only Sri Lanka, but countries all over Asia will have the same (problem).
“The Chinese will take the Belt and Road initiative all over unless other countries provide an alternative.”
India has been at the forefront of nations wary of Belt and Road, fearing it will reinforce China’s military and strategic clout in the Indian Ocean region that New Delhi considers its backyard.
China has allotted hundreds of billions of dollars on the network of ports, railways, roads and industrial parks spanning Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
India’s foreign and defense ministers held talks with counterparts from Japan on Saturday in a bid to step up military cooperation.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa also confirmed that he wants to renegotiate the agreement with China about the strategic Hambantota port south of Colombo that serves the key shipping lanes between Europe and Asia.
“I believe that the Sri Lankan government must have control of all strategically important projects like Hambantota,” he said in the interview.
“The next generation will curse our generation for giving away precious assets otherwise,” he said.
Sri Lanka was forced to hand the port over to China in 2017 on a 99-year lease after the Sri Lankan government was unable to repay loans taken to build it.
India and some Western countries have raised concerns that nations who have taken Chinese loans under the Belt and Road initiative risk falling into a debt trap.
Rajapaksa said he was certain India’s government under rightwing Prime Minister Narendra Modi would move past the apprehensions it had over ties between Sri Lanka and China.
“Some of their suspicions were due to our ties with China, but that was a misunderstanding. We had a purely commercial agreement with China,” Rajapaksa said.


Malaysia to work with UNICEF on polio vaccination in Sabah state

Updated 19 min 39 sec ago

Malaysia to work with UNICEF on polio vaccination in Sabah state

  • An infant was diagnosed with polio a few days ago for the first time since 1992
  • Authorities said the polio strain shared genetic links with the virus detected earlier in the Philippines

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s health authorities on Sunday said they are working with UNICEF to bring polio vaccines to the state of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo, where the country’s first polio case in nearly three decades was detected last week.
A three-month-old infant was diagnosed with polio on Dec. 6 after being admitted to hospital with a fever and muscle weakness, the first such case since 1992.
It comes after the Philippines, north of Borneo, reported its first cases of polio since 1993 in September.
Malaysia’s health ministry had said the child was infected with a polio strain that shared genetic links with the virus detected in the Philippines.
“We are planning to work with the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, to get vaccine supply at a low cost for an immunization program for non-citizen children in Sabah,” Director-General of Health Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a statement.
Noor Hisham said the plan is to have UNICEF subsidize the cost of the vaccines, and to administer the vaccinations with the help of selected non-governmental organizations and the Philippines government.
No new cases have been detected so far, though authorities are still waiting for the results of stool samples taken from people who had close contact with the infant and the surrounding area where the child lived, Noor Hisham said.
“The health ministry would like to stress that the best way to eradicate polio is through immunization. Contagious diseases such as polio know no boundaries,” Noor Hisham said.

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