The Sunday Leader

Hambantota In The Great Game Of The Indian Ocean

President Rajapaksa’s visit to Moscow was not seen as an event of much significance by political observers. Last November’s visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergev V.  Lavrov to Sri Lanka resulted in only two agreements between the two countries being signed. One was on cooperation in illicit trafficking of narcotics and psychotropic substances and the other was on natural disasters and mitigatory consequences.

Wen Jiabao, M. Ahmadinejad and Vladimir Putin

In the war on LTTE terrorism Russian MiG 27 planes and T-54/ 55 Battle tanks were used by the armed services. The most important contribution from Russia has been its support in the field of diplomacy by using its veto powers along with China in thwarting attempts by Western powers to have resolutions against Sri Lanka in the UN Security Council and also attempts to condemn the Sri Lanka government on alleged war crimes.

President Rajapaksa’s attempts could be seen as appreciation of Russia’s support during the critical hours in the war against the LTTE and not much financial assistance could be expected in the context of Russia’s economic plight following its losses in export of oil and gas last year.

China’s earlier aloofness

One of the most significant changes in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy took place between the years 2007-2009 under the Rajapaksa presidency. Since independence, Sri Lanka’s foreign policy had been tilted towards Western powers and also for long periods towards the Soviet Union and India under the guise of the policy of non alignment.

In 2007, China-Sri Lanka relations leapfrogged causing concern in Western capitals as well as New Delhi. Students of politics note that Sri Lanka-China relations have been cordial even under UNP governments commencing from the Rubber-Rice deal in the 1950s and grew in strength under the SLFP governments of the two Bandaranaikes.

While China helped Sri Lanka in many development projects it kept its distance from being involved in the country’s communal conflict. The two countries discussed the problem since the 1980s and in 1983 Beijing told President Jayewardene’s special envoy H.W. Jayewardene that the ethnic problem was Sri Lanka’s internal affair and that a political solution had to be found within the country. In 1986 when  Sri Lanka sought assistance  to install ‘defence manufacturing capacity’ of light arms and patrol boats China declined again.

China’s refusal to be involved in Sri Lankan affairs was seen in the context of a thaw in Sino-Indian relations at that time. The only exception appeared to be establishment of a bonded warehouse of China’s North Industries Corporation (NORINCO) where military air strips, equipment were supplied on payment.

Dramatic change

The dramatic change came about during the 2007 visit of President Rajapaksa to Beijing. China dropped its stance of the Sri Lankan issue being an internal affair and that it had to be resolved by a political solution. The joint communiqué issued after that visit resolved to ‘fight against the three evil forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism’ and said that the two parties would step up consultations and co-ordination on regional and international terrorism. In April 2007 a deal of $ 37.6 million for supply of artillery guns, armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and infantry weapons was made.

China also agreed to sell six F-7 fighters for taking on the fledgling LTTE ‘air force’ and destroying bunkers and command posts. Beijing is also reported to have encouraged its ally Pakistan in supplying weaponry to Sri Lanka. However, it has to be noted that Islamabad had been supporting the Sri Lankan armed forces in its war against terrorism since the1980s when China was keeping aloof.

Leapfrogged

Chinese aid to Sri Lanka leapfrogged to one billion dollars in 2008. US assistance to Sri Lanka at that time was $7.4 million and UK assistance $1.25 million and this assistance too was in the form of ‘humanitarian aid’. China replaced Japan as the leader of assistance to Lanka in 2008.

The one billion package was for the establishment of a ‘friendship city’ in the Hambantota District and is now designated as the HDZ (Hambantota District Development Zone) and is expected to be completed in 15 years. The first phase which commenced in October last year is estimated to cost $ 450 million. This HDZ in Hambantota is said to be on the lines of the Gwadar project in Pakistan. It will be a deep water harbour for Chinese flagged merchant vessels, container carriers, oil and gas tankers, military vessels and possibly nuclear submarines.

This could be a surveillance  point of the major sea routes  from the  West and Middle East to the Straits of Malacca. The other potentials of this harbour could be: establishment of electronic systems and networks for monitoring military and civilian traffic, monitoring electronic transmissions from Diego Garcia and even monitoring a nuclear facility of India that is expected to come up at Rambili in the Bay of Bengal.

The decision to make the colossal investment at Hambantota can only be interpreted in terms of China’s entry into the great power game in the Indian ocean. It is a clear demonstration of China breaking out to be a superpower. Western analysts point out to the ‘String of Pearls’ ( military facilities) China aims to build in the Indian Ocean. It has sought  bases in the Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius, Burma and Iran. Undeterred by human rights considerations China is moving its investments into countries that can provide energy supplies to its burgeoning industries. Sudan, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Iran are some of the countries watched anxiously by Western powers.

A recent issue of The Economist  points out to Western countries expressing their distaste for Rajapaksa by imposing conditions or cuts in their ‘mostly puny aid’ to Sri Lanka and Rajapaksa finding  allies elsewhere. Iran had supplied a $450 million for a power station and a seven month supply of oil on loan and so did Pakistan. It says that the one billion dollar soft loan for Hambantota is a seemingly ‘potential haven for Chinese sent to guard the Indian Ocean sea lanes’. India, the journal says ‘ is spooked’ by China’s rising  interest and would extend loans upto $ 700 million for Sri Lanka’s railways.

Other reports say that New Delhi is jittery about Hambantota becoming the Pearl of Great Price in the Chinese ‘necklace  of pearls’ that is being built around the Indian Ocean and one report leaves open the question whether Lanka would be sandwiched between the two rising Asian giants in case they go for each other as they did in 1962.

28 Comments for “Hambantota In The Great Game Of The Indian Ocean”

  1. Basil_is_Mr30%

    We should not surrender the sovereignty of Sri Lanka at any cost, to any power. The entire harbour project should be overseen by Sri Lankans and once complete the Sri Lankan government should retain full control and ensure it remains purely a commercial harbour. If the Chinese start to us SL like a client state we would be no less independent than we were when under British rule.

    I sincerely hope the VVIP corporation in power has not sold us out!

    • Tony Candappa

      MR has no control on what the Chinese will do once HDZ is completed.

      • Basil_is_Mr30%

        You are probably right… the chinese are no fools, they probably have better records of where the 30% and 20% commissions went.. and can probably hold MR by his vitals if he turns funny on them.

  2. Caeser

    Whats wrong in China taking control on the maritime region of Asia rather than we become backyard of Yankees?

    • Kanishka1

      Good point ! westerners control us as to their requirements while china will most likely be symbiotic.

    • Leel

      Guys, do not think like frog in the well. The computer your use is made where. It may be Chine. Nevertheless, to whom it license is belong to. The softwares installed in it, who has the property writes? Just tell, single soft ware application created by Chine or any other country. Which part of the world, 75% of the world new inventions or creations are taking place, is it in China?

  3. Janaka

    China is taking control of the world. US economy now runs totally on borrowed money from China.

  4. Trevor Jayetileke

    A new sea route round Hambantota and through the Bay of Bengal to a new port in Southern Burma is in the making. The crude oil supplies to China from the Middle East / Africa and natural gas supplies from Burma will be piped separately into to Southern China and bypass the present congested Straits of Malacca through which most of the crude oil supplies to the south east asian economies including China are presently met. The USA in particular and the West in general should not get its geopolitical wire mixed up and perceive this marine logistics development as a sinister move of Chinese hegemony in the region but rather as additional infrastructure for an Asia Pacific Community which will eventually encompass China, India, Indonesia but also the Cold War rivals the USA and Russia in a New World Order which is slowly but surely taking shape. The World Wars and Cold Wars of the past are behind us and we have to look to future of Human Co-operation and not Confrontation and the most under-rated/valued Pearl of the Orient – Sri Lanka – could be the Common Mascot for this defining undertaking of the 21st century

  5. Every thing good president. You said you finished the war, so why you went to Russia and sign a contract to supply 300 million of dollars contract for supplying modern weapons and bullets to Srilanka.I heard yo got a doctorate.I am asking what field you got this Ph D, is it for `Thuggery` or `Cheating`.Those are good to Srilankan Modayas but not for the educated world.

    • Nishantha

      If you wish to see a typical Sri Lankan Modayas that you mentioned,,, please go in front of a big and clear mirror…!

      • Still_Sri_Lankan

        Nishantha, so you have just seen your self in the mirror ?

        • You are very wise, this is the only country voted to a man who openly cheated foreign funds and ordered to come to the court. That is why “Sudda” says “Sinhalaya modaya” .I like to add some thing to this it is, “Sinhalaya modaya-Ellankanna yodaya”

  6. Theraputtabaya

    Lankikaya We don’t care about what your “educated world think of us as they were not with us when the terrorists were killing innocent people in Sri Lanka .
    It’s funny to think that we should do our policy planning to the agenda of the so called “educated world” to impress them.
    It’s important to keep the country ready for any kind of attacks by the terrorist and we the Sri Lankan Modayas don’t know how to destroy terrorists without such weapons .
    You can insult the President Rajapaksa but his name would be mention again and again in the history books as the great leader who had the courage to Fight against the terrorist despite the resistances of the so called western educated world(will see how impartial the Leader is)

  7. Native Vedda

    Hi guys

    Sri Lanka likes to believe it has sovereignty over the Island. The truth of the matter is that its sovereignty is guaranteed by outside forces than by the state. Its like virginity once lost, lost for ever.

    Prabaharan believed that LTTE under his leadership had carved out sovereignty from Sri Lanka. International Community lead him to beleieve that he was running a de facto state. Similarly Rajabaksa, his supporters and to certain extend the Sinhala speaking people also beliveve that the Island is a sovereign state.

    As far as South Asia is concerned Sri Lanka is a Sinhala State of India. India has been determining Sri Lanka’s destiny for many Millenia through its culture, religion, philosopy, technology, trade, military and naval power.

    I would say this on record, soon the Sinhala and Tamil speaking people would compete each other in learning Hindi.

    My people will have the last laugh.

    • I was thinking the same as you are. India is going to keep us uder their control and gong to force us everything to buy from them. they made the racial problem 40 years ago. Do you belive how many millions of dollers they are spending make problem in our region. To buy american politicians they have an open budjet. every body must think as sri lankans First. BE SRILANKAN, DIE AS A SRILANKAN

  8. Dr Dulip Perera

    Whether the so called educated west likes it or not Srilanka should decide it’s future considering it’s global friend.The west and the EU which only has a crooked agenda for Srilanka is prepared to pull the rug under it’s feet at a opertune time.At every turn possible the war crimes charges were given maximum publicity.When the country needed help, the GSP concession is going to be withdrawn! SL came out of doldrums of war much against the wishes of this so called educated west!!! For this only the East stood with Srilanka! The world order has already changed! very soon US, UK & EU will have to be wary of GIANT China and India which will call the shots!!!!

    • Native Vedda

      Good Dr Dulip

      Do you honestly think that India and China would be any different to the west? Both countrys are growing Imperial powers and would smash and grab the very little you have.

      If you carefully look at the timing of the full scale war against LTTE should tell you something about the timing. When Sri Lanka finally decided to seriously look for oil in Mannar basin, an alliance came together to support Mahinda. The support came from relatively rich countries, India, China and Pakistan. West played the critical part in curtailing LTTE activities in the Americas, Australia and Europe. India provided from training to intelligence and military advisor, etc..

      The war against LTTE was a coalision of the willing.

      Sri Lanka is just a spot in the Global village. It does not have any real mussle in the international affairs. It rides on the back of countries such as Russia and China. One should ask oneself about the costs of such free rides. For every favour there is a price to page. There isn’t any thing called free lunch

      When and how will Sri Lanka is going to repay these countries is a very expensive question.

      • BOOBAMBA

        AT LEAST iNDIA AND cHINA HELP US TO RESTORE OUR SOVERINITY IN A TIME WEST WANTED TO BREAK OUR NATION IN TO TWO PARTS.

  9. Westerners and their club called the International Community are jealous of China. They are jealous not just for its economic development but for winning friends the world over. It does not barge in and force friendships like the Colonialists of the yesteryear. It does not force its religion or culture or religion on others. They do not interfere in internal matters of other countries. In short, China is no modern day colonialist.

    Long before the so called explorers of Europe or the Portuguese bandits washed in to our shores, we had good relations with China for over thousand years. So, all Sri Lankan Buddhists consider China as a friend. Christian evangelists that anchored here since Portuguese, however look upon China as their enemy. For them anything from the West is good and all other is bad. No wonder Josephs spin around that opinion.

    Ever since China started to build our harbour at Hambantota these detractors did everything they could to distort our relationship with China. Such acts have multiplied when they started the coal power station at norochchole, and numerous other projects. To understand the mentality, the vengeance and the prejudices that Westerners and their henchmen carry, please visit (http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/11/showcase-91/? ) to see Chinese in Africa in western eyes. That writer photographer saw all wrongs and damage Chinese did to Africa during the last few years, but he saw no wrong what Europeans had done for the last five hundred years.

    In Sri Lanka, we had power blackouts since 1996. Coal power plants were considered essential to come out of that gloom. Yet, no government could start building them. Not because of lack of funds, but the Bishop in the area was against it. Whether he has been a LTTE sympathiser; we do not know. For one thing similar lacklustre attitudes withheld coming up of the harbour at Hambantota as well. It must be said RanilW started no project whatsoever when he clinched power in 2001 for three years.
    However, as soon as Mahinda Rajapakse became President, he started not just the said projects but many others with aid from other countries as well. Now, all those countries that gave us aid are anti evangelists and anti West. That is the crux of the matter for UNP backed writers.

    Anyway since, president Mahinda started to develop this country with Chinese aid, suckers of the West have started their crusade. They started foretelling that China is building a naval base in Hambantota. Some other cock-teasers have gone so far as to present a China bogy to Indians.

  10. BOOBAMBA

    THESE WESTERN SO CALLED HUMINITARIAN AID DO NOT REACH SRI LANKA AT ALL. THEY JUST NAME THE AMOUNT AND HAND OVER THAT MONEY TO NGOs IN THAT WESTERN NATION. IT IS UP TO THAT NGO TO SPEND THAT MONEY IN SRI LANKA OR NOT. AS AN EXAMPLE IN 2008 CANADIAN GOVERNMENT CLAIM THAT THEY MADE $1.3 MILL WORTH HUMINITARIAN AID TO SRI LANKA. THEY HAND OVER THAT MONEY TO “CARE CANADA” A NGO WHICH HAS BRANCHES IN SL. BUT NONE OF THAT MONEY REACHED SRI LANKA. THAT NGO SPENT ALL THAT MONEY IN ADMINISTRATIVE EXPENCES WITHIN CANADA. THAT MEANS THAT MONEY WAS SPENT ON SALARIES OF THE NGO WORKERS. NY QUESTION IS WHY WE SELL OUR NATION TO PAY SALERY TO A WHITE WORKER IN ANOTHER COUNTRY. ARE WE MAD. ON THE OTHER HAND CHINESE MONEY DIRECTLY SPENT IN OUR COUNTRY. WHIOCH ONE SHOULD WE CHOSE.?

  11. Theraputtabaya

    Leader It’s good to learn that you are publishing comments from the people of both sides.

  12. Kalag

    India and China will never go to war, atleast for the next 50-70 years. China will allow India to meddle in SLand take control, as long as its interests are protected. Theprevious war with China was due to the stupidity of Nehru. Now both countries know it and they will never risk their economy and growth.
    So called “political solutions” are and will be decided by Indians but carried out by the SL president.
    The $300m arms purchase is needed to make sure nobody opposes when this “Indian solution” is implemented. India has already started giving instructions to TNA on how to behave during the parliament elections. It will decide who will be in the TNA list. Eventually, Karuna, Dougy and Pilliyan etc will be thrown away by India. India will only allow so called “moderate” Tamil leaders (that means; those don’t have the guts to oppose India).
    As mentioned above, Sri Lanka will be (may it is now) the “Singhala state of India”.
    Our kids will fight over the admissions to Hindi teaching schools. It is OK. Fighting over language is not new to us. After all, we don’t want to learn Singhala or Tamil. It will be egg on our face. It is ok to learn Hindi, Mandarin or English. At least it will solve the language divide. There is no religious divide. Buddhist go to Hindu temples. Tamil were Buddhist before (see the old epics like Manimehala) but only don’t want to admit it. They are not against Lord Buddha really. Everything is HUNKY DORY.

  13. dagobert

    What is Western aid compared to what China has provided. Furthermore, they are no strings attached.

    West want to make friends with SL for their convenience and to serve their whims & fancies.
    its time we made permanent friends & those who has the clout to support.

  14. Dr.Asanka

    C’mon guys ! dont you see the Red threat to Freedom !! the chinese dont even care for the rights of chinese, think what they’ll do if they get gretaer influence…we must work to support freedom , democracy and all thats good in this world…not bow down to the dirty games the chinese are playing. India still stands strong to protect all these values and we should side with whats right. It’s well known that the manipulated their elections such that our war may not be stopped.And do you really think they sided with ltte after Rajiv Gandhi’s assasination. They rather started the covert operation to help us destroy those damn tigers. Our politicians (those moderates) know tht and thats why they like india…and we feel india is ordering them .I’ve been to china and india and i can sya tht it was a total revelation…the chinese looked upon us as a small, non-consequencial country which they may lure and manipulate…..many didnt even know about us!
    India was a suprise..their entire nation (except the tamils) respected us and looked upon our country as a neighbour they’re glad to have. The hospility I recieved was superb! it totally changed my perception of our neighbour. We here talk all ill about a country that loves us…i did fell a bit uneasy about that.
    to think that the chinese,who’ve never been good even to their own people shall be good to us is mad.They’re the new ww2 Japan. Just visit these nations…you’ll know whats true.

  15. Lanka

    @Dr.Asanka Got to ignore these terrorist sympathizers in India spreading lies on Lanka papers. Go BACK to india.

    Those Indians who are mostly illiterate, homeless and starving are jealous at Lanka’s education standards even after a devastating war.

    We should always have an independent policy means engagement with all countries who dont mean Lanka harm. That way we can benefit the most.

    I have been to shanghai, a very magical place. if you have seen the movie Blade Runner, you will think it is like that. chinese who want to do business have no ulterior motives. they say winwin and we both profit. we need to reach out and trying to benefit our interests and striking winwin deals.

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