Sri Lanka’s historic mistake to “gift” Hambantota Port to China

NS Venkataraman

NS Venkataraman

By NS Venkataraman

CHENNAI, India, 22 December 2017

In governing a country, the government should pay due consideration to the long-term implications of its decisions. The Sri Lanka government’s decision to hand over the Hambantota port to China is a classic instance of a government taking decision without viewing the long-term implications, that can prove disastrous for the country in several ways.

It is now well known all over the world that the Government of China with Xi Jinping as President has huge territorial ambitions. It wants to emerge as the undisputed leader of the world. The ambition of China is not much different from the ambition of Germany’s Hitler who initiated the second world war, thinking that he could conquer the world with his military might. China has learnt lessons from the misadventure of Hitler, and has realized that dominance of the world can be achieved only by combination of economic dominance and military might.

China forcefully occupied Tibet several decades back, and has now consolidated its total control over the region. As the world has been watching China’s aggression in Tibet silently, China has now gained more confidence that it can have its way in achieving its ambitions. It is taking the world opinion for granted or viewing it with unconcern.

China’s ambitious One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative is part of its carefully and cleverly designed strategy to move on with its world dominance target.

Now, China’s domination over Pakistan is nearly complete with its 50 billion USD China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. China has already made a huge investment in Pakistan by way of this CPEC project and extended large loan and gained access to several vital infrastructure projects in Pakistan. There is no way that Pakistan can get rid of China’s control in future.

In the same way, China has extended loans to Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and other neighbouring countries to push them into debt trap and leverage these countries within its strategic orbit. China has recently signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Sri Lanka and Maldives that would enable it to get greater say in the economy of these countries. China will gain much more by signing the FTA with these small countries than what Sri Lanka and Maldives will gain.

While the Asian countries are becoming increasingly apprehensive about China’s strategies and plans, and China is already claiming that Arunachal Pradesh province in India belong to it, it is shocking that the Sri Lankan government has closed its eyes to the ground realities and has taken the decision to hand over the Hambantota port to China, which many people think that amounts to an almost irresponsible decision with least care for the long-term sovereignty of Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan government is giving some weak justification that it has handed over the Hambantota port to China in a 99-year lease to settle the debt. It is giving an apologetic explanation that with Chinese management, it would be converted to a major port of Indian Ocean, leading to economic development and promotion of tourism.

The Sri Lankan government further provides the laughable explanation that the Hambantota port would not be permitted to be used as a military base by China, and that security measures of the port would be under its control. Under the agreement, only the Sri Lankan navy will be responsible for the security of the deep sea port, which is a tall order for the Sri Lankan navy, with the effective presence of Chinese with full control of the port. Having now allowed China to become the owner of the strategic Hambantota port, the question is whether a small and militarily weak country can effectively prevent China from using the port for its own military advantage.

The fact is that China’s dominance and control over Sri Lanka has now reached an alarming level, as China is already involved in constructing the Colombo Container Terminal expansion and the Colombo Reclamation Project overlooking Colombo port. With this 99-year lease agreement for Hambantota port, China’s dominant presence in Sri Lanka has become permanent, and this step is a big leap forward for China in its world dominance target.

There is really nothing wrong in two countries collaborating for setting up projects. Investment of companies based in one country in another country is also now a well-accepted practice. But what is happening in the case of Hambantota port is that Sri Lankan port authorities signed a 1.1-billion-USD deal with CM port for the control and development of the port. It is well known that China is a totalitarian country, and CM port controlling the Hambantota port virtually means control by government of China.

Unfortunately, public opinion in Sri Lanka has not been strong enough to prevent the Sirisena government from signing this suicidal agreement with China.

The earlier Mahinda Rajapaksa government was accused of getting into the debt trap of China with the least level of care and caution. Now, the Sirisena government has shown that it is no better.

About the author

NS Venkataraman is a chemical engineer as well as a social activist in Chennai, India. He is the founder trustee of Nandini Voice for the Deprived, a Chennai-based not-for-profit organisation serving the cause of the deprived and down-trodden, and working for probity in public life.

More articles by NS Venkataraman on Tibet Sun.

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