Sunday, April 21, 2024

Why is China Building Strategic SeaPort and Airport in SriLanka

HomeWARWhy is China Building Strategic SeaPort and Airport in SriLanka

BEIJING — As the island nation grapples with a deep economic crisis, China dauntingly dangled potential investment backing to upgrade two of Sri Lanka’s most strategically prized assets – raising eyebrows about Beijing’s long-game in the Indian Ocean territory.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dinish Gunawardena emerged from talks with Chinese Premier Li Qiang this week brandishing pledges that China would “assist to develop” both the Colombo International Airport and the controversial Hambantota deep sea port. However, maddeningly opaque details loomed over the scale and terms of the purported Chinese largesse.

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The comments landed like a cannonball, coming after Li vowed China would “assist Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring process continuously” – a key condition for the $2.9 billion IMF bailout keeping the near-bankrupt nation afloat. Yet Beijing’s ultimate stance on taking a haircut from its lender status as Sri Lanka’s top bilateral creditor remains an enigma wrapped in a riddle.

For the Hambantota port, a former administration infamously handed the strategic southern shipping hub to Chinese state firms on a 99-year lease in 2017 to try offloading over $1 billion in debt. The firesale spooked Sri Lanka’s regional rivals like India, already leery of Chinese naval activity enabled by civilian port calls.

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Washington too fretted over the potential for Beijing to deploy surveillance ships from Hambantota, burnishing China’s intelligence eyes along one of the planet’s most indispensable maritime chokepoints. Both the U.S. and India have groused about approving Chinese research vessels docking over espionage fears.

And the Colombo airport itself remains mired in suspended expansions following Sri Lanka’s dramatic debt default last year, amid mass protests and fury over economic mismanagement that ousted the president.

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So while desperate for any lifeline, apprehension swirled that Chinese-backed infrastructure plays may simply entrench Sri Lanka deeper into subservient debt traps – stoking wider concerns about Beijing’s shady strategic checkmating across the Indian Ocean region.

As the island’s debt restructuring drags with key lenders like China still playing coy, the specter of heavy-handed sovereign crookedness overshadowed vows of economic deliverance from Sri Lanka’s most controversial partner.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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