One Belt, One Empire? PRC's Sri Lankan Port

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 6/26/2018 06:17:00 PM
A port in Sri Lanka made by China and now owned by it shows dangers in borrowing from the PRC for infrastructure.
A continuing thread I've been investigating is the PRC's grandiose One Belt, One Road Initiative, lately abbreviated to the Belt and Road Initiative. Its stated intention is to restore the commercial infrastructure of the historic Silk Road which stretched from China all the way to the Middle East. To this end, the Chinese government has been spending a lot on infrastructure projects in many developing countries stretching from the Far to the Middle East.

It cuts both ways: developing countries are keen on alternate sources of financing for their infrastructure needs. What's more, China knows a thing or two about improving infrastructure going by the improvements they've made in this respect over the years. Meanwhile, the Chinese benefit by gaining commercial and of course trade access to these nations.

Today, though, we have an interesting counterpoint: What if China's "non-intervention" in the internal affairs of other countries actualy involves lending to corrupt leaders who the Chinese know have no ability to pay them back for these grandiose infrastructure projects? Then the Chinese may still benefit by taking over these facilities. Indeed, the cynical would say that's the entire point of this initiative.
“John Adams said infamously that a way to subjugate a country is through either the sword or debt. China has chosen the latter,” said Brahma Chellaney, an analyst who often advises the Indian government and is affiliated with the Center for Policy Research, a think tank in New Delhi.
Witness what's happening with Sri Lanka nowadays. As the Chinese sought a presence on the Indian subcontinent, its borrowers have conveniently gone belly up and have given up control of a newly port by the Chinese to its builders:
Over years of construction and renegotiation with China Harbor Engineering Company, one of Beijing’s largest state-owned enterprises, the Hambantota Port Development Project distinguished itself mostly by failing, as predicted. With tens of thousands of ships passing by along one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, the port drew only 34 ships in 2012. And then the port became China’s.

[Former Sri Lankan President] Rajapaksa was voted out of office in 2015, but Sri Lanka’s new government struggled to make payments on the debt he had taken on. Under heavy pressure and after months of negotiations with the Chinese, the government handed over the port and 15,000 acres of land around it for 99 years in December.
The case of a single port is not enough to indict China's intentions, of course. A multi-country study would be useful on whether infrastructure projects were actually completed, used, or worse handed to the PRC after recipient governments could not pay off loans. At this point, though, nobody should believe China's intentions are purely altruistic "third world solidarity" and all that jazz.

There are many dupes like those in Sri Lanka just waiting all over the world.