By Remy Jayasekere –
These days, newspapers and social media are full of stories about China buying up Sri Lanka. Hambantota port and land and Port City in Colombo are among the favourite topics. The common thread among all the articles is that this buying spree will result in China exerting undue influence in Sri Lankan affairs and some even suggesting that that Sri Lanka will end up as a “Chinese colony”. The extent of land involved is 15,000 acres ( around 60 sq km) in Hambantota and about 300 Ha (around 3 sq km) in the Port City in Colombo.
It is interesting to compare this with what is happening in Australia – two countries with a population of around 20 million each. Australia realises that they do not have the capital to develop all the development that can take place there and invites overseas investment. Chinese are the largest foreign investors in Australian agriculture with an interest (freehold or leasehold) in 9,199,000 Ha (91,990 sq km) of land. This is 2.4% of all agricultural land in Australia. So, China holds in Australia, a land parcel that is larger than the total area of Sri Lanka. (66,000 sq. km). They increased their land holding by 0.5% during the last year. Other countries such as UK, USA, Canada and Netherlands are buying up Australian agricultural land and now, 13.8% of all agricultural land has a foreign interest. The Chinese also own large amounts of non- agricultural assets in Australia. For example, the port of Darwin and several large mines are owned by them. On the other hand Australia owns large parcels of land in other countries. The Australian case was quoted as an example but the situation in most developed countries is similar.
Hundreds of companies in other countries have factories in China, either owned by them or producing goods for them under contract. Your iPhone, Dell computer, Nike Shoes or the Panasonic TV is likely to have been made in China.
As the above show, we live in a globalised economy with cross ownership of land and other assets everywhere. No one in the world complained when China owned so much land in Australia but everyone is shouting foul about these relatively small transactions in Sri Lanka. Is this a way of the West stirring up emotions to oppose the good relationship Sri Lanka has with China and the inevitable rise and rise of China.
Owning land and other assets in another country does not allow you to operate as you please in that country. You are subject to all the laws of that country and if one violates them action would be taken. Therefore the fear of losing our control over those assets is completely unfounded.
Sri Lankans have a history of trying to own everything within Sri Lanka. Bandaranaike’s boasted that they nationalised the oil companies and plantations among other things. This resulted in driving away all foreign investment – which Sri Lankans did not want anyway. The result was impoverishment when countries like Malaysia and Singapore invited foreign investment and thrived. If Australia thinks they do not have sufficient capital for development and invites overseas investment can we do it all by ourselves?
This “doing it all by ourselves” mentality goes onto many other aspects of our lives – specially to our universities. We do not have a single university in the top 1000 universities list in the world. This is partly due to the lack of research done but mainly due to the lack of international collaborations, staff and students. If Nepal and Bangladesh can have overseas students and we send our students there, why cannot we have internationally competitive universities here.
If we want to develop as a country, we need to start opening it up for investment and collaboration. Closing it up and trying to do it by ourselves is not the solution but is the path to stagnation and possible disaster. Western nations want that to happen so that they can have a foothold here and keep interfering in the mayhem it will cause.
*Remy Jayasekere – Chartered Engineer