There are conspicuously worrying trends that the proposed China-Lanka Port City brings on to the citizens of Sri Lanka. The greatest worry is that our country erroneously compares herself with other financial cities around the world. It is incomprehensible that our leaders and some of our people fail to have a clearer view of these conditions, and take a more circumspect approach.
Let us first consider Dubai. We are told that Sri Lanka can be another Dubai, right to the positive reinforcing calls of “Yes, we can do it too!” The differences are stark. Dubai was a former oil-rich country. Much of its wealth was placed in the banking system of the oil-rich Arab world, and which is pegged with the global dollar of the USA for greatest stability. Its rise as the financial city of the UAE and parts of Africa and South Asia was a natural progression towards its survival as a nation for its Sheiks, given the currency of its former oil-wealth and consolidation with its rich neighboring states.
Next is Singapore that we compare ourselves to. Lankans coming home from Singapore are appalled that we do not have the same high-rise city structure that will give us greater prominence. Little do they see the beauty of the natural countryside and profusion of our untouched forests. Singapore was built up from the oil wealth of the surrounding South East Asian neighbors. Singapore has offered itself as the financial center for the oil wealth of Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and also Vietnam since 1967. The Singapore dollar is also pegged to the global dollar of the USA. Yet Singapore’s main trading partner is with China at this time. However, this trading is of the virtual and FinTech type and not true commodity and consumer trading required for the country. An article in the Straits Times says, “Through Singapore’s platform, both sides will cooperate in six areas: the BRI, financial services cooperation, technology and innovation, ease of doing business, urban governance, and people-to-people exchanges.”
Currently, China’s investments into Dubai, as in other places are mostly into driving up prices in real estate. Who benefits? The Chinese Oligarchy themselves. Yet their investments and trade with Dubai in line with the Belt and Road Initiative can be seen as a good and productive venture, although quite unnecessary for Chana’s survival as a prosperous nation. China has her own home market, and expansion of its trade within the Asian region can only be seen as acquisitiveness.
Consider Hong Kong. With Port-City, we can become like even Hong Kong, it is said. But its magical financial creation came out of the capitalistic wealth that came out of pre-communist Old China. When the communists took over China in the early 1900’s, Chinese capitalists and old Feudal Lords absconded with the fat wealth of China, and stashed it in this British colony. Incidentally, this is how Singapore was also initially created. The British made good use of this wealth to further their colonial ambitions, giving HK a head-start in the capitalist realm consolidated within the Colonial structure that later became the US and Western financial modus.
Another financial undertaking is the more recent Chinese buying of the Greek port. The Greek ports have a long and also ancient history of shipbuilding and trade enterprises with shipping magnates like Onassis. China has hence bought into an already well-established industry giving it new life, and something that can be well commended to China for investing in and saving.
Then comes the other global financial centers that Sri Lanka feels she can easily replicate, but has not done so, it is felt by certain Lankans, because of poor leadership in previous times. Not much needs to be said about London Old Colonial and Crown wealth need no elaboration. Monte Carlo, Panama City- Panama, Switzerland, New York are all entities that have hundreds of years of capitalistic financing, for better or worse, that have held up the Western monetary value, and later the US dollar. This of course included rogue capitalism of gambling, prostitution, offshore finance centers, tax havens, money laundering, dramatic decrease in rural lifestyles and destruction of rivers, forests, oceans and farmland of the unfortunate “lesser” countries. The money for these entities came about from the old colonial and aristocratic wealth stashed away and invested carefully in all kinds of frivolous pursuits after the downfall of the old European autocracies. And now China is attempting to imitate the same set of old procedures, just when the West is seeing the error of their former ways and making concerted efforts to correct the global disharmony that they created. Indeed, the West has been working on a better capitalistic global order for several decades.
Mauritius, the Chinese financial center for the whole of Africa is another country China has invested in to consolidate its trade and finances. We were told recently by Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his true capitalistic fashion, that China’s involvement in Mauritius was a thing of wonder that Sri Lanka should also strive after. He prefers to have a Lankan Port City in similar fashion, but with all major powers of stake-holders involved instead of solely China. That pie-in-the sky statement can only come from one that sees unlimited bounds to capitalism.
The reality is that capitalism cannot be shared too broadly, and needs to be balanced with areas of the world that subscribe to greater socialism. The West has exploited Africa for its resources and has not done much to uplift the African counties off its poverty levels. China then comes to the rescue with its usual Infrastructure upon Infrastructure projects, and sets up a base in Mauritius to consolidate its financial bourgeoning.
Where is the sustainability after all these infrastructures have been built? What will give financial substance to keep the skyscraper viable. Certainly, infrastructure on its own cannot create wealth even if the whole country and continent is networked into perfection. Countries need to be forced set-up in mostly technological pursuits that keep ever producing, to keep the wealth rolling so substance of the infrastructure is worth its manifestation. Is that feasible considering the nature of our countries and our spirit and ability? Traditional socialist agrarian and forestry lifestyles can never again be worked in line with the Climate Change theme. But many of our Lankans are awed with technological progress of super highways, fast cars, ever evolving semiconductor devices, high speed bullet trains, and so on. How far are we as a nation to crave what should not be ours given our history and especially our religious precepts of Buddhism?
In the end, Sri Lanka has none of the associations of other financial centers that can make Port City truly viable. We have no oil wealth, and not much in the South Asian region. We have no time-honored structure to weather global monetary fluctuations. India is strongly rooted with the USA, and so are the other countries of South Asia. Yet, Sri Lanka feels she would be safe as Port City will belong almost entirely to China. The lure of a foreign power investing high stakes on the side of our capital city where we would get a percentage of its earnings (albeit no fixed amount decided as yet) is a phenomenon too enticing to ignore.
But what is the Port City exactly about? Is it about providing financial service to the South Asian region that surrounds us, like the way Dubai and Singapore (with their oil-rich collateral) do with their neighbors? The Belt Road Initiative is about sea trade starting from the Arab state of West Asia right through to the east to China. Sri Lanka as a stopover will surely bring in riches from the trade routes. We have the Hambantota harbor together with Colombo City Port. Although is seen the Chinese ships that use them as a stopover are not too adequate at present, once China increases her trade within Asia, these ports will certainly have more stopover potential. But why then should we have a Financial Port City? The harbors itself should be about to handle the shipping lanes. Well established Dubai and Singapore should be able to handle the financial side of China’s initiatives. Singapore has been naturally set up through the decades to handle a vast array of financial services. For Sri Lanka, it will be a entirely new set of entities. China’s Port City intends to entice investment from the South Asian region into its system and use each area of Asia to gradually overturn the global US monetary status to and Chinese Yuan monetary system. But again, India and other countries of South Asia are strongly grounded with the USA.
And cities like Dubai and Singapore are squeaky capitalistic clean, in line with the New Western Global Order of clean capitalism. No, they won’t ditch the West too soon, if ever. Fitch Ratings, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s are American credit rating agencies that ensure clean capitalistic practices. Yet it was not always so, and these agencies were only created in 1975 after the West acquired most of its wealth. China is her global quest for power desperately needs a spot to achieve the same prominence the West did so about a few decades and centuries ago through Rogue Capitalism. Sri Lanka’s will be their vastly experimental entity, unfortunately also stoking the wrath of the Western superpowers, and the easiest for retaliation.
When the Europeans invaded, colonized and broke our nations, they created cash crops. Cash crops are consumable and sustainable ones, even if they destroyed our forests and farmland, and destroyed our traditional livelihoods. Yet our countries are gradually coming to some balance and have actually improved the conditions of our people through the decades. Cash crops like tea, coffee and rubber are things that people can sustainably use.
But compare this with how China intends to boost up its monetary prowess: Infrastructure upon Infrastructure! Once built, where is the sustainable industry to support this infrastructure? Cash-crops in the end are green, and comparatively non-environmentally damaging if done in an organic way, compared to rabid infrastructure and unnecessary technological advances. Did big cities like what the US exist on organic agriculture and traditional lifestyles? No, they got their fruits and vegetables from other market-growing nations. They exist and thrive on technological advances, but the good earth can only handle a limited amount of such undertakings, including ones into the space age. Another global power coming into rampant technological services as a rival to the established one will sink the world in technological surpluses, driving up inflation, creating poverty, and all the while depleting the only sustainable resources we have. Many countries are aware of the pitfalls of excess capitalism and consumerism, so much so as that American President Biden is subscribing to a greater socialized capitalistic structure : taxing the mega-rich to uphold the value of the small business structure for the American masses; developing the environmentally friendly industry
When one looks at the US dollar, it did not come solely at the tight holding of monetary values at the expense of lesser developed nations. No indeed, because from countries like the US also emerged innovation, entrepreneurship and scientific invention such that all countries of the world long for and bought up, thus placing a country like the US at a constantly high level. Comparing this with China, it is found that China is also propagating the very same system, albeit with only some fractional deviation from the West’s technological and scientific advances.
The US began its city-building for historical reasons when immigrant upon immigrant fled the ravages of old Europe. Never mind at this time the detriment they caused the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and the destruction of their traditional farmland and forest to build up their cities for their ever-increasing population. The US finds it impossible to go back to traditional farming as its soil is now mostly inhospitable to traditional farming – the farming of the ancient Native population gone mostly forever, and hence the newer techniques of inorganic and GMO food production. USA is a unique case as a large nation over centuries of trial and error.
It is seen that China however, within a decade or two, is installing on its soil, the very same US structure that took over 400 years to establish. China had, and has multiples of farmland and forest, and ample resources to feed and house her billion people. The burning question is why is what they are doing necessary, and why doesn’t China go along the traditional routes to use her own innovative processes to build up within her own ability and structure. One can only see the trend of power hunger and empire games that China is playing. Is this fair to the rest of the networked globe, and is it good to humanity in general?
We are in quite a different era from the time countries of the New World were colonized. Now is a time of global corporation and global networking. The greatest threat that must be considered is the existence of Nuclear Bombs. Try and establish an alternative global financial order and the billions of humans in the Western countries will be severely disenfranchised. The West will use every means possible to ensure their survival, including the threat and use of these nuclear weapons. Do we want to see our Unique Motherland at the front and center of this charade and debacle? And experimental Port City will be the first target to eliminate any threat to the current world status quo.
Our war on terror ended just about a decade ago. Many of those who prefer separatism are in the Western nations campaigning for their State of Eelam. Many in the West are deeply compassionate towards these people, with little or no awareness or caring of the anguish to the other side. Foreign policy towards our land will then come only too easily from the West, with the slightest of excuse. The West in its desire to keep their economic system in secure condition, will very easily get rid of any threat to their system.
Yet Chinese presence is a welcome change to a world run by those of Europeans ancestry who are by nature very involved in their right of perceived superiority. The Chinese outlook is comparatively non-racist and undemeaning. The sweetness of Chinese culture, language, food, and religious practices is more in line with the Asian thought process. Many would be extremely contended to see the West pulled down by their sheer arrogance. It is hoped that the West would engage better with China and come to some consensus on how better business practices can be achieved to be beneficiary to all countries. One thing is certain – the Sri Lanka Port City cannot come into the equation then. Such entities coming into the equation would create the drastic unnatural situations that create wars, and this time it will be nuclear ones.
The Belt and Road Initiative can still proceed with Sri Lanka’s harbors used as entrepot ports. With the abundant money that we will probably have, it is hoped that our government will lead us then into a greater traditional socialism path with little stress on creating rabid capitalist enterprise in vain efforts to have the fruits of the Western capitalists.