23 September, 2020

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Enter The Dragon: China Bankrolls Sri Lanka’s Post-War Development

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

Marwaan Macan-Markar

Hambantota, Sri Lanka – This small town with its narrow streets and slow pace of life on Sri Lanka’s southern coast has always belonged to the geography of off-beat trails. Visitors drawn to its solitary hotel are largely day-trippers stopping to take a quick look at Hambantota’s quaint, yet colourful fishing harbor and the vast stretches of the nearby salt pans.

But when it did make the news, headlines about tragedy and death on a massive scale dominated. The powerful Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004 pummeled this stretch of beach, leaving a trail of bodies in the thousands and reducing communities already laboring under poverty in ruins.

Before that, in the late 1980s, the surrounding areas were added to the list of the country’s “killing fields.” Then, government troops were locked in a brutal battle to suppress a Marxist uprising led by disaffected youth. Headless bodies and torched corpses littered roadsides.

But with the rise of a native son from this region to the highest political office in the land – President Mahinda Rajapaksa – Hambantota and its vicinity have come to symbolise the direction in which this South Asian island is heading. Backhoes, bulldozers and steamrollers are at work, replacing large swathes of forest with broad highways.

An international conference hall is emerging out of a barren landscape. A state-of-the-art international cricket stadium, with floodlights for night games, has already been built in a stretch often frequented by wildlife. Billboards on the roadside announce other development plans to create what one local resident called “Sri Lanka’s future city.”

And that “city” already has two international gateways even before it emerges: the newly built Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port and the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport.

The first phase of the port, which began operations in late 2010, has succeeded in attracting a trickle of vessels on transshipment routes – most of them cars made in India due for markets in Africa.

The government, however, has ambitious plans, given Hambantota’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean: 10 nautical miles from one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, with some 70,000 vessels traversing the nearby waters annually. Over four construction phases, fueling and repair facilities for ships and industrial zones are being built to cater to the global sugar, cement and fertilizer markets.

These twin achievements – the first phase of the port costs 320 million U.S. dollars, while the airport costs over 120 million U.S. dollars – underscore how increasingly dependent the Rajapaksa presidency is on the Chinese for its development dreams.

They are among a growing list of infrastructure and development projects funded by loans from Beijing. In 2012, for instance, China’s financial commitment to Sri Lanka included 1.055 billion U.S. dollars in loans and 16 million U.S. dollars in grants, leaving the island nation’s closest and powerful northern neighbor, India, trailing behind with 443 million U.S. dollars in loans and 257 million U.S. dollars in grants.

But other figures reveal more: it is only after Rajapaksa was elected as president in 2005 that Beijing’s interest in Colombo increased dramatically. Of the roughly five billion U.S. dollars in loans and grants made by China to Sri Lanka between 1971 and 2012, some 4.76 billion U.S. dollars, or 94 percent, has been pumped since 2005.

Among the more striking are a coal-fired power plant along the northwestern coast and a giant performance hall, built in the shape of a lotus pond, in Colombo.

“Those numbers released by finance ministry tells it all about Sri Lanka’s new relationship with China,” an economist observed. “The projects coming up in Hambantota bring this bond out. Other leaders also sought to build up their local constituency, but Rajapaksa is taking it to another level with Beijing’s bags of cash.”

The beginning of this relationship between Beijing and Colombo is rooted in the war machine that the president and his younger brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the hawkish defence secretary, started to build to confront the Tamil Tigers.

Within days of Colombo announcing in March 2007 that it had leased land to the Chinese to build a new deep-sea water port in Hambantota, the Rajapaksa government announced that it would mount an assault on Tiger-held territory in the country’s north.

The following month, Sri Lanka signed a secret deal for 37.6 million U.S. dollars in military hardware to bolster its army and navy, according to a report that appeared in Jane’s Defence Weekly. The military tranche of Chinese assistance to Colombo included special radar equipment for a base outside Colombo, F-7 fighter jets and weapons for ground troops.

By the time the war ended in May 2009, China had become not only an important military supplier to Sri Lanka and a protector of the country from international opprobrium, it had emerged as the country’s leading provider of foreign assistance contributor, dethroning Japan, who had for decades been a key lifeline for development programmes.

This shift coincided with revelations among international security analysts that Beijing, with an eye on its need for energy security, had begun building a so-called “string of pearls” – a network of ports along the routes taken by its oil tankers and cargo vessels carrying raw materials from Africa and the Middle East to drive the Chinese economy. The Hambantota port emerged among these “pearls,” as did deep-water ports in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

“Of course there is another way of looking at these pearls: an attempt to surround India,” said a diplomat familiar with South Asian affairs. “India is naturally unnerved by this, and the Sri Lankan government needs to be conscious of New Delhi’s concerns given the geo-political implications.”

In public, at least, the Rajapaksa government appears to be making the right sounds to assuage India on this front. Regular visits by senior ministers to New Delhi give the impression that Colombo will not put all its diplomatic eggs in the Chinese basket.

“The government has a few arguments to use in its favour in turning to China,” says an international development analyst. “The country has now moved into the rank of middle-income countries, so it is ineligible for the previous financial assistance. And Sri Lanka is more interested in bi-lateral than multi-lateral assistance.”

*Marwaan Macan-Markar, a Sri Lankan journalist, is a foreign correspondent who has been reporting from Southeast Asia since 2001, following a posting in Mexico City. This dispatch from Hambantota, Sri Lanka, was published in a June issue of The Edge Review, www.theedgereview.com, a new Southeast Asian magazine launched in Kuala Lumpur

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    Become the Cuba of the Indian Ocean no doubt. And the local Fidel rules forever till he is incapicitated.

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    Good piece Marwan, keep it coming, but a points.
    1. The massive infrastructure development in Hambantota are: is a rock-bedded Port without ships, Airport without planes or passengers to international destinations; and Massive 6 lane highways sans cars.. this tells the story of a massive mis-fit between what the people’s (who are mostly peasant farmers and impoverished small scale fishers) DEVELOPMENT NEEDS and PRIORITIES are and the Rajapassa regime’s delusions of grandeur.
    2. This reveals the total INCOMPETENCE of the Uneducated Minister of Economic Development, Basil Rajapakse and the rent-seeking attitude of foreign donors – China in particular which has a reputation for Partnering with Military Dictatorships as in Myanmar.
    3. Hambantotoa’s white elephant infrastructure whose ENERGY costs and maintenance is adding to Lanka’s already bloated national debt and is a significan cause of the DEVALUATION of the rupee and the rise in Costs of living. Any economist who calculates the pay back on investment in Hambantota would call this a DEVELOPMENT FINANCE DISASTER.
    3. Today Hambantota is also a massive ENVIRONMENTAL catastophe, its wild life is being destroyed as water holes are filled to prevent bird hits on the 2 or 3 planes that land there. Yala national park which is the ONLY reason tourist visit Hambantota is a traffic nightmare because of too many day tourists. The convention center will be uses once for the Commonwealth of Clowns meet and closed there after.
    4. The investment and infrastructure built in Hambantota would have been far more useful in the north-east – but then we are back to ethno-religious chauvinistic politics and governance – particularly Rajapassa’s construction of a military dictatorship with a DEEP STATE in order to rule Lanka forever!

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      This is UNEVEN and regionally skewed and bad economic development..

      In the northeast many families still do not still have have homes and livelihoods, and while Rajapassa is spending unjustifiable funds and accumulating huge DEBT on white elephant infrastructure in sleepy Hambantota because it is Rajapassa’s town.
      Remember the bugger looted tsunami funds and built more homes for tsunami families than were needed and gave those donor funded houses to Rajapassa cronies..
      The aid racket in Lanka benefits the dictatorship – because donors never ask questions about AID COORDINATION and are happy to give useless loans as long as they are lending..

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    Good piece Marwan, keep it coming, but a points.
    1. The massive infrastructure development in Hambantota is: a) rock-bedded seaport without ships, b) Airport without planes or passengers to international destinations; c) massive 6 lane highways sans cars. There are only advertising bill boards on deserted roads. This tells the story of a massive mis-fit between what the people’s (who are mostly peasant farmers and impoverished small scale fishers) DEVELOPMENT NEEDS and PRIORITIES are, and the Rajapassa regime’s delusions of grandeur.
    2. This reveals the total INCOMPETENCE of the Uneducated “Minister of Economic Development”, Basil Rajapakse who knows nothing about Development or Economics and the rent-seeking attitude of foreign donors – China in particular which has a reputation for Partnering with Military Dictatorships – as in Myanmar.
    3. Hambantotoa’s white elephant infrastructure whose ENERGY costs and maintenance is adding to Lanka’s already bloated national debt is a significant cause of the DEVALUATION of the rupee and the rise in Costs of living and the coming economic crash unless China cancels the loans. Any economist who calculates the pay back on investment in Hambantota would call this a DEVELOPMENT FINANCE DISASTER.
    3. Today Hambantota is also a massive ENVIRONMENTAL catastrophe, its wild life is being destroyed as water holes are filled to prevent bird hits on the 2 or 3 planes that land there. Yala national park which is the ONLY reason tourist visit Hambantota is a traffic nightmare because of too many day tourists. The convention center will be uses once for the Commonwealth of Clowns meet and closed there after.
    4. The investment and infrastructure built in Hambantota would have been far more useful in the north-east – but then we are back to ethno-religious chauvinistic politics and governance – particularly the Rajapassa family’s criminality, corruption greed and construction of a military dictatorship with a DEEP STATE in order to rule Lanka forever!

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      Spot on CD! and the Chinese Trawlers have got the contracts and are steeling the fish in the area and depriving the poor fisherman of their livelihoods.

      This is how Rajapassa is paying back China and making the people of Lanka impoverished and pay for Basil the fool’s lack of education, incompetence and massive policy mistakes that are increasing economic and social inequality.

      On the Brite side as people get wise, and the COL goes up and economy implodes due to DEBT — The Lanka Spring will get going – as in Brazil, Turkey etc.

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      China Doll,

      It is a good investment, if the overall benefits and revenues exceeds the costs.

      Since 70,000 ships go past the Hambantota Port every year, it has potential. However, can it be tapped?

      The Airport, is harder to Sell.

      It is all right to get the Chinese to fund, if others will not. This happens all the time with start up companies.

      Of course there is the Ego involved.

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    “..This shift coincided with revelations among international security analysts that Beijing, with an eye on its need for energy security, had begun building a so-called “string of pearls” – a network of ports along the routes taken by its oil tankers and cargo vessels carrying raw materials from Africa and the Middle East to drive the Chinese economy. The Hambantota port emerged among these “pearls,” as did deep-water ports in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

    “Of course there is another way of looking at these pearls: an attempt to surround India,” said a diplomat familiar with South Asian affairs. “India is naturally unnerved by this, and the Sri Lankan government needs to be conscious of New Delhi’s concerns given the geo-political implications.”

    In public, at least, the Rajapaksa government appears to be making the right sounds to assuage India on this front. Regular visits by senior ministers to New Delhi give the impression that Colombo will not put all its diplomatic eggs in the Chinese basket..”

    Well, geopolitics is measured in not two three five or ten years but very long term strategies and effects. Given the Rajapakshas inclination and embrace of China the inseparable and permanent way it is now, whatever the Rajapakshas say now as an excuse Sri Lanka shall definitely be used as an enemy base against India in a futuristic Indo-China conflict scenario! India must not fail to understand this reality and act now itself without allowing matters to get out of control!

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    there several things noticeable about this artilce ,and prompt questions.

    is china’s help and relationship “bad” for sri lanka, as implied?
    no

    is china in any way inferior to say western countries as a donor or an ally ?
    no

    is china inferior in a moral sense to west?
    however bad china’s human right record is, it cannot match the barbarity of the west when it comes to violating human rights, in the form of invasions, exploitations, bombings, killings of innocents, torture of unarmed, rape, genocide, ethnic cleansing, spying, subversion of democracy and legitimate governments, funding for terrorists, spying, etc, etc, (all of them ongoing, as well as historical)

    as such sri lanka should not hesitate to ally with china.


    in fact best policy for sri lanka is to play off various big powers against each other to get the beat deal from each . that is what current government is trying to do.

    only west prefers to bully us to obey, through hypocritical racist double standards about human rights, of which which they are the greatest violators ever.

    china and some others prefer to ally with us through investment.

    btw why is this article concentrating on hambantota . most of the high value chinese investments are outside that place.

    and what’s with the anonymous quotes?

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      “..is china’s help and relationship “bad” for sri lanka, as implied?
      no

      is china in any way inferior to say western countries as a donor or an ally ?
      no

      is china inferior in a moral sense to west?
      however bad china’s human right record is, it cannot match the barbarity of the west when it comes to violating human rights, in the form of invasions, exploitations, bombings, killings of innocents, torture of unarmed, rape, genocide, ethnic cleansing, spying, subversion of democracy and legitimate governments, funding for terrorists, spying, etc, etc, (all of them ongoing, as well as historical)

      as such sri lanka should not hesitate to ally with china..”

      Sittingnut, when you sit be careful to do so lest your jewels may get smashed by the weight of your intelligence!

      The other week, China opened fire and killed many dozens of people who were agitating against China’s injustice against them in one of its provinces. Chine is controlling it’s citizens under the military jack boot-there is no freedom, liberties, democratic rights, poor human rights, no press freedom, government is spying on its citizens, internet access is restricted and all the rest of it. China is a virtual dictatorship. And Sri Lanka is more and more drifting towards and adopting Chinese methods of rule, obviously learned and in collusion with the China, Russia, Sudan and all such despotic prone countries. Notwithstanding the false claims of the nut-man it is the West that live and personify the spirit of democracy, human rights and liberties. Why do all these people go to the West for all purposes from leisure, enjoyment, jobs, medical, education etc. and not to China? If the West was barbaric none of them would have gone their. Why did nut-man’s Gora and Bara obtain citizenship in US and not Chinese if they were barbarians? Sittingnut, don’t try to fuck your wxxe with your peanuts hiding your dead rod behind your legs! We know why you are writing your piggish billshits sniffing the posteriors of the Rajapakshas. It is dollars man, isn’t it. Filthy man! Your above filthy comment can be en masse applied to your own Rajapaksha rule and not to the West! Every word of it is in operation under Rajapaksha rule-barbarity, violating human rights, in the form of invasions, exploitations, bombings, killings of innocents, torture of unarmed, rape, genocide, ethnic cleansing, spying, subversion of democracy and legitimate governments, funding for terrorists (BBS!), spying, etc, etc, (all of them ongoing, as well as historical)

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    Why not?

    China is way better than Saudi, Libya under Kadafi or Iraq under Hussein.

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    Srilanka has moved into the ranks of the Mid Income Nations.says the writer.

    What a great achievement especially when the whole National Airline of 22 Aircrat were destroyed by the Terrorists in one single attack.

    After successive Govts before, sucked up to to West big time, what did we end up with?.

    Thirty years of horrible deaths and destruction.

    All financed with Western funds.

    In contrast, what China has contributed are there not only for people to see but provides real time benefits like better roads, and more electricity to the rural poor which are the most important human needs.

    Why kowtow to enemies when we have real friends.

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      K.A Sumanasekera

      “After successive Govts before, sucked up to to West big time, what did we end up with?.”

      Well said with large dose of hypocrisy.

      Rajabakse has made deals with the west such as

      buying Rolls-Royce aircraft engines from UK

      planning to by Boeing aircrafts

      opening up “oil” explorations for “seven sisters”

      …………….

      many more.

      However you should note Sri Lanka is providing training facilities for the US Naval Special Warfare Community

      Read the following:

      Exercise Flash Style commences

      The exercise Flash Style, the Annual Joined Combined Exchange Training (JCET) between the US Naval Special Warfare Community and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces commenced on 02nd July 2013 at the Naval Dockyard in Trincomalee.

      Special Boat Squadron, Fast Attack Flotilla, Divers and Rapid Response Rescue and Release Squadron of the Sri Lanka Navy and MI 24 Squadron and Regiment Special Forces of the Sri Lanka Air Force are taking part in the exercise along with a 10- member US team from US Navy SEALs, Special Boat Unit and Air Force.

      Tactical Combat Casualty Care, VBSS, Swift Water Rescue, High Angle Rescue and Heli Rappelling are among the areas that will be covered during the exercise scheduled to conclude on 19th July.

      navy.lk

      After successive Governments before, Mahinda too is sucking up to West big time.

      “When you’ve got ’em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”

      This is US for you.

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    Why kowtow to enemies when we have real friends.

    exactly . even the west knows its days are numbered . China is the nest superpower .

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      abhaya

      “Why kowtow to enemies when we have real friends.”

      When you have such friends you don’t need enemies.

  • 0
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    wedda you are a jackass . it s china that helped us destroy yourv praba deiio..

    • 0
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      abhaya

      “wedda you are a jackass”

      I haven’t met a jackass before so I would not know.

      Can you post your photo here.

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    The Indian Subcontinent is a failed state compare to China. Indians are extremely nervous. Therefore. Indians will continue to play the bullying strategy to keep Sri Lanka poor and hopeless under them. Indians are playing the same dirty game since the 1970’s. Eventually, Indians will lose Sri Lanka, and other Subcontinent countries. Indians did nothing, but created terrorism in Sri Lanka; when China introduced once child policy, and expanded its manufacturing sector to increase its disposable income. The Chinese have lots of money, they are smart. Indians don’t have money to invest in the Subcontinent countries. Listen to me Sri Lanka, your big brothers have let you down, in fact they have let down two billion people in the Indian Subcontinent by trusting and following the Westerners. The UNP and the TNA will not choose the right path for the country, but they will choose the path to gain something foe themselves, even if that involves in selling their mother and their motherland to Indians.

    I have lot of respect for the Chinese people, because they are smart, they are suspicious about the Westerners. In China all the Western propaganda social websites are blocked, very smart move. Based on the history the Indian Subcontinent should be more suspicious about the Westerners, much more than the Chinese, but we are not, because we are not smart. We fought against the Westerners, but we trust them to develop our cultures and countries. Basically, we trust our enemies to prosper, this is not stupidity, this is beyond our stupidity. I suffered due to my writings in the Western Countries more than Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, but not many people know what I have been going through, thanks to the Indian Subcontinent and its leaders. India is the largest democratic country, but it is not relevance to the people like Julian Assange or Edward Snowden.

    The Indian Subcontinent was ruled, ripped off and divided by the Westerners, but the people from the Indian Subcontinent trust the Westerners more than the Chinese. The Tamils trust the Indians who made their young generations as the most ruthless terrorists in the world, yet they trust the Indians again and again. Currently, Sri Lanka is facing a difficult situation, the 13th amendment and the election will decide Sri Lanka’s future. Therefore, I wanted to be in Sri Lanka, and booked a flight on 12th of July. After reasonable consideration I decided to cancel the flight, because I won’t be able to change the people’s mindset that easily. The West systematically enforced their agenda throughout many generations in the Indian Subcontinent. Therefore, I won’t be able to unwind their mindset by visiting Sri Lanka. I don’t think I can unwind their mindset in my lifetime. The wisest move is helping the Chinese with my skills and knowledge, and let the Indian Subcontinent learn from the Chinese. It will take centuries for Indians, Pakistanis, Sinhalese and Tamils to have a decent understanding about the real global politics.

    The Indian Subcontinent leaders know one thing very well, they know how to undermine their own intellectuals, in order to secure their positions. They say that they follow the democracy, but their democracy is laughable. Few days ago I met an Indian at a bus stop in Kuala Lumpur. I mentioned to him about China’s growth, and talked about the Shanghai’s Pudong District. At the end he said that he does not care about the China’s growth, he does not even care whether Indians have toilets or not; as long as Indians have democracy he is happy. This man is fooled by the Indian propaganda. Indians say that the Chinese Communist Party is controlling its people; but the truth is, Indians fool their people, and keep them in blindness; eventually Indian leaders’ dirty game will eat entire India Subcontinent.

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