By Sola Lawanson
China gained major success in the field of railways when it successfully implemented its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Sri Lanka. China laid down a railway line of 26.75 kilometres between the areas of Matara and Beliatta in the Hambantota area of the country.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that this was the first railway project contracted by a Chinese company in Sri Lanka under the BRI. This is incidentally the first railway which has been built after the country gained independence.
The media in Sri Lanka pointed out a significant factor that the railway track in Matarawas started in 1991. This was long before the BRI was conceptualized in 2013. The foundation stone was still visible to the people at Matara. A leading Sri Lankan news portal by the name of Colombo Page reported that the construction of the railway track from Matara to Kataragama was launched in 1991 by the then President RanasinghePremadasa.
The new railway line was inaugurated in the presence of Sri Lanka’s Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Arjuna Ranatunga, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera and other eminent dignitaries.
The Chinese foreign ministry, on the other hand, threw light on the fact that this railway will make transportation easy and help to facilitate economic and social development of the area.
The total cost of this railway project is 278 million dollars. This railway extension project was financed by the Export-Import Bank of China (China Exim Bank). The contract was given to the China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation.
Trains on the newly opened track will run at a speed of 120 km per hour.
This is the fastest in Sri Lanka.
Though this may help to facilitate social and economic development, this will, on the other hand, increase the debt burden of the country. Sri Lanka has been a major recipient of Chinese loans and investments which leads to a total of 8 billion dollars.
Sri Lanka earlier was forced to hand over the port of Hambantota to China on a 99-year lease. This was done after the country failed to repay the loan that they took for the port. It should be pointed out that the Chinese action of getting the port through this debt was criticised by many countries all over the world including the US. The US mentioned that the BRI projects were actually a debt trap for the small countries of the world.
Among the completed BRI projects in Sri Lanka were the Norocholai power station, the Colombo airport expressway, the Colombo international container terminals and the Moragahakanda Project, the biggest water reservoir in Sri Lanka.
Much of Sri Lanka’s foreign debts are with China. They have taken loans to build motorways and develop other infrastructure. It remains to be seen how the railway construction will impact the development of Sri Lanka and whether their debt account with China will further increase in the near future.