Sri Lankans Feel Humiliated, as China Take Over Hambantota Port

Nobody knows now as to what would be the geopolitical conditions after 99 years.

by N.S.Venkataraman

The construction of the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka was funded by Exim Bank of China by way of loan , at commercial interest rates and with debt repayment stipulations.

Hambantota port 
Sri Lankan government obtained several rounds of loans to construct Hambantota port from 2007 to 2016. The loan had a grace period of around five years and a payback period of 15-plus years.

Hambantota port has not been generating enough revenue to repay China , when loan and interest payments become due.

Unable to pay back the interest and debt as per the terms of loan agreement, Sri Lankan government succumbed to the pressure of China and therefore, Hambantota port in Sri Lanka was leased to China Merchant Port Holdings Limited (CM Port) for 99 years for $1.12 billion in 2017.
It is reported that although Hambantota port was leased to CM Port, the loan obtained to construct Hambanota port were not written off and the Sri Lankan government would be still committed to loan repayments as per the original agreements.

Hambantota port episode is a case of win win situation for China and a case of humiliating situation for Sri Lanka.

Though the Sri Lankan government has repeatedly asserted that the Chinese would use the Hambantota port only for commercial purposes, one is not sure about the game plan of China. No one believe that the Chinese would use the port only for commercial purpose during the 99 year long lease period.

Many think that the Sri Lankan government has thoughtlessly committed the future generation of Sri Lankans to the stranglehold of China as far as the Hambantota port is concerned .Should we call the act of Sri Lankan government as thoughtless or irresponsible or both?

The port is strategically located, so that the port facilities can be used by China to launch military attack against nearby countries.

Though Sri Lankan government says that Chinese cannot use the port for military purposes, there is nothing that Sri Lankan government can do ,if China would convert the port fully or partly for military purposes with or without the knowledge of the Sri Lankan government.

Due to financing a number of other infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka by China , Sri Lankan foreign debt to the Chinese has increased drastically over the years.

Surprisingly, there is no big protest so far from the people of Sri Lanka about providing the strategic port on 99 years lease to a Chinese company, which virtually means to Chinese government. Sri Lankans seem to be fretting about the scenario within themselves.

The lease of the Hambantota port has happened due to the inability of Sri Lankan government to pay back the loan and China enforcing the terms of agreement, taking over the port under it’s total control for all practical purposes for very very long period 99 years on lease.

Nobody knows now as to what would be the geopolitical conditions after 99 years.

Can we say that Sri Lankan government has humiliated itself and Sri Lankans by agreeing to surrender the port to China on the basis of so called lease agreement, which virtually amounts to surrendering the sovereignty of Sri Lanka to a overseas country. In view of very long period of the so called lease, Sri Lankans have been forced to reconcile themselves to a distressing situation ,where Hambantota port is lost to Sri Lankans , practically for all time to come. This is nothing but a sort of aggression and occupation of Sri Lankan territory by China in a commercial way.

What do the Sri Lankan citizens feel about it? Obviously, they feel humiliated that the Sri Lankan government has placed itself in a weak and an unenviable situation by constructing the port with financial and technical support from China, now known all over the world as an aggressive partner with unconcealed territorial expansion ambitions.

One can even say that China taking over the Hambantota port due to the debt that Sri Lanka owes to China is somewhat similar to the slave trade in the earlier days, when the practice was that if the loan would not be returned by the debtor, the debtor and his family would become the life long slaves of the financier.

Certainly, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the concerned, knowledgeable and patriotic Sri Lankans feel sad at the state of affairs with regard to Hambantota port, particularly since 99 year lease means that the port territory will not be under the control and authority of the Sri Lankan government in any meaningful manner for generations to come.

Hambantota port symbolizes the humiliation to which Sri Lankans have been subjected to.

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