COLOMBO: Sri Lankan capital Colombo is the most suitable to be South Asia’s commercial hub, says Liang Thow Ming, Chief Marketing Officer of the US$ 1.4 billion Colombo Port City project being executed by the China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC) .
Liang told this correspondent that Colombo is not only South Asia’s cleanest and the most livable city, it is also the capital of a country which has no quarrels with any of the nations in South Asia.
That makes Colombo an ideal place to create and run a regional commercial hub, he added.
People from all parts of South Asia can come to Sri Lanka and do business here without issues relating to their nationality, Liang pointed out, in a veiled reference to problems between India and Pakistan which hinder free movement of goods, services and people between the two countries.
In fact, from the general acceptability point of view, Colombo could be the “Singapore of South Asia”, Liang added.
A Singapore national of Chinese origin, Liang said that the Colombo Port city (now renamed Colombo Financial City) will be an international commercial and financial hub with its own legal system based on the British model and labour laws attuned to the needs of modern businesses. It will have investments from all parts of the world and not necessarily from China.
Serving the Indian market
However, the Financial City will be primarily serving the Indian market which is the single largest in the total South Asian market of 1.7 billion people, Liang said.
“Indians who want to park funds abroad could do it in the Colombo Financial City, rather than in Dubai or Mauritius, as Colombo is the nearest and also culturally compatible,” he noted.
Asked about India’s opposition to the project on security grounds, especially after the visit of Chinese submarines in 2014, Liang said that India has since dropped its opposition because Indian businessmen and government officials have realized that the Port City is nothing but a commercial venture in which Indians are welcome to invest.
He said he has met Indian entrepreneurs and even addressed the association of top Indian real estate developers at their conference held in Shanghai. The delegates expressed an interest in knowing more about the project. Liang also met the former Indian Deputy External Affairs Minister Shashi Tharoor, an ardent advocate of India-China cooperation.
According to Liang, it would cost a company about US$ 200 million to invest in land, buildings and business in the Colombo Port City. There are about 1000 top Indian developers out of which 100 to 200 may be able to raise US$ 200 million, he estimated.
However, the question is whether it will be worthwhile for them to shift to Colombo from India or Dubai to Colombo, Liang said. According to the Chinese Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Yi Xianliang, four or five top Indian companies have expressed an interest in investing in the port city, but he would not name them.
Following the Sri Lankan Presidential election in January 2015, in which the incumbent President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who initiated the Port City project, was defeated, the new government stalled work on it for a few months to investigate some charges and also to negotiate the terms.
But after the modification of the terms, work is “going full steam ahead,” Liang said.
(New Indian Express)