by Zhu Ruiqing, Tang Lu
COLOMBO, Feb. 3 (Xinhua) -- Sri Lanka is reaping early harvests from the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, featured with the launch of operation at Hambantota Port through a joint venture between the two sides last year.
Since Sri Lanka and China started joint operation of the Hambantota Port in southern Sri Lanka, there have been doubts in the western media over the profitability and the future of the port.
However, the smooth and excellent performance of the port and the properly addressing concerns of the former employees have proven that time will answer all doubts lingering over China-Sri Lanka cooperation in Hambantota Port.
Indeed, Hambantota Port had witnessed a relatively slow pace of growth and development in the past. However, with the great potential of the port gradually realized and the joint venture established between Sri Lanka Ports Authority and China Merchants Port Holdings (CMPH) to co-develop the port, the operation of Hambantota Port has remarkably improved.
Chief Operating Officer from the joint-venture Hambantota International Port Group Tissa Wickramasinghe told Xinhua recently that since the joint venture took over the operation of the port in December, the port has been functioning "extremely well," with the roll on-roll off (RO-RO) business picking up more than expected.
Major global players in the RO-RO business have all visited the port, with a view to developing new transshipment and related businesses, the chief operating officer said.
"We are also receiving many overseas inquiries for the development of new break-bulk and bulk-cargo business, which has been only made possible by leveraging on the global network of CMPH."
The future of the Sri Lanka-China cooperation in Hambantota Port is promising, just as Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said at the official launching of the joint venture, "We have made arrangements for the management and long-term success of Hambantota Port. The operations of the joint venture will ensure an additional port in the Indian Ocean."
Today, Hambantota Port, located near the main shipping route, is prospering every day and gains increasing confidence from the Sri Lankan community.
Senior fellow from the Institute of National Security Studies of Sri Lanka Lasantha Wickremesooriya told Xinhua that for the flow of vessels between the West and the East, the major transshipment hub is Singapore. But he added that Hambantota Port is more economical for them.
"With the technical know-how, marketing know-how, and the investment capability by CMPH, the port will eventually turn into a profitable venture in the future with more modern vessels coming in," he said.
Mangala P.B. Yapa, managing director of the Agency for Development of the Sri Lankan Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade, also expects a bright future of Hambantota Port.
"We are confident that this collaboration and partnership will bring in success to Sri Lanka and our partner CMPH. A commercially viable and efficient Hambantota Port will be catalytic in the economic development of the south of the country and resulting in better livelihood for the people in that part."
As an example of fruitful cooperation between China and Sri Lanka within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, the joint venture, in essence, is also a case of commercial restructuring between the Sri Lanka Port Authority and CMPH.
Like other restructurings, there are "teething" problems faced at early stages. In the case of the Hambantota Port, the problem is about the resettlement of the employees from Magampura Port Management Company (Pvt) Ltd (MPMC), the local company which ran the Hambantota Port in the past.
What is comforting is that after the effective negotiation between the former employees and Sri Lanka Ports Authority, both sides hammered out a lasting solution last month. The Sri Lanka Ports Authority said it would re-employ 138 former MPMC workers and the compensation for other affected employees would be more than 1 million rupees (about 6,500 U.S. dollars) per head.
Hambantota Port is the second port project between Sri Lanka and China. The Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT), which has proven to be one of the fastest growing terminals in the world, has recorded 2.35 million TEU containers since it came into service in 2014.
Hambantota Port, just as the CICT, will eventually demonstrate its capability to rejuvenate the island nation's economy and play an important role in the world's shipping industry.