In the aftermath of the Rajapaksa Government’s worst-ever political setback at last Saturday’s elections to the Uva Provincial Council, grave questions are being raised about China’s hi-tech 3-D neocolonialism and whether Sri Lanka is in danger of becoming a satellite State of China.
China’s Government-owned companies operating under different names of subsidiaries, signed as many as 27 official agreements during last week’s 23-hour widely-publicized visit by China’s President Xi Jinping. While 27 agreements were signed in the presence of President Xi and President Mahinda Rajapaksa, officials said an unspecified number of other agreements were signed on the sidelines. The Rajapaksa Government does not make much information available to Parliament or the independent media while the Cabinet is known to rubber-stamp almost anything and everything presented by the all-powerful Executive President. With the proposed Freedom of Information Act being eaten up by bulls from a china shop, the people of Sri Lanka are denied their fundamental right to be fully informed of what the Government is doing with the people’s money. Those who need information could obtain it from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange where most of China’s giants or dragons are registered as public listed companies, and are required to provide details of their contracts, though the authoritative Chinese Government does not disclose information. The Sri Lankan Government, caught up in the authoritarian trends of non-transparency and non-accountability, appears to be comfortable in going along the Chinese path.
The biggest and most controversial of the agreements signed was the multi-million-dollar deal for the construction of a 233-hectare artificial island known as the Colombo Port City project off the Galle Face green. The China Harbour Engineering Company and the China Communication Construction Company will be involved in this mega project with most Sri Lankan people and independent analysts saying Sri Lanka does not need such a project and raising questions as to why China is pushing for it.
The two Chinese companies, according to information given to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, have named Sri Lanka as one of their sixth biggest revenue and profit earners in the world. Strangely the two Chinese companies have formed a joint company with Sri Lanka for the Colombo Port City Project and the agreement on behalf of Sri Lanka was signed by a Chinese businessman. China will directly own or have on lease more than 110 hectares of this port city and we do not know whether it will become a Macaw or a Monaco with casinos and Formula-I night races to promote irresponsible or immoral tourism.
Another major deal is to allow China to search the Indian Ocean area allegedly to find the wreckage of the ships of the Chinese explorer Zhang He several centuries ago during the Ming dynasty. But most independent political analysts say it will enable China to install hi–tech seabed equipment for the surveillance and monitoring of submarines or ships in the area.
Another agreement, though not highlighted, has much significance. This is a project in Pulmudai for the extraction of ilmanite. What most Sri Lankans are not told is that ilmanite, when processed, is a valuable element known as titanium used for hi-tech aircraft, missiles and space vehicles. This will be obtained from Sri Lanka for a ‘polmudda’, but the buyer will make hundreds of millions from what is called (rare-earth).
With all these Chinese connections, Sri Lanka may find itself not only in an economic debt trap, but also in the crossfire of power games among regional and international superpowers.