While Sri Lanka says the port deal with China is a means to claw itself out of debt, China says it’s a strictly commercial deal for one of its state firms. But analyst feel there’s more deep seated plans beneath the surface.
Analysts say the Hambantota port on the southern tip of Sri Lanka is part of Beijing’s bigger push to challenge US naval dominance in the Indian Ocean and New Delhi’s influence in the region.
Last month state-owned China Merchants Port paid US$1.12 billion to the Sri Lankan government for a 70 per cent stake in the facility.
The deal covers an area roughly twice the size of Macau and includes plans to develop a neighbouring industrial zone.
China Merchants said the facility would be developed into “a major industrial and service port”.
It’s the second time China has bought into a Sri Lankan port – it took an 85 per cent stake in the Port of Colombo on the country’s west coast in 2013.
Chinese interests have also bought into other harbour projects in Myanmar, Pakistan and Sudan, raising speculation that Beijing aims to establish a series of bases, or “string of pearls”, from the Middle East to China, containing India’s reach.
China has already established one such base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, although Beijing refers to it as a logistics facility.
The deal comes as India and China are locked in a tense stand-off in a contested area of the Himalayas. Beijing is also trying to expand its presence in India’s backyard, with a visit by Vice-Premier Wang Yang to Nepal later this month.