Authorities in Hambantota port, Sri Lanka, recently said that Chinese ships will be docking, causing concern among neighboring countries. An Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman on July 28 said that India is closely monitoring any developments affecting India’s security and interests. However, the Sri Lankan Defense Ministry on July 30 confirmed that there will be Chinese ships docking and said “this is normal.”
According to The Hindu, a Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense spokesman said that the Chinese research ship will be allowed to dock at Hambantota from August 11 to 17 to provide fuel and other supplies. The ministry also said that the country generally approves the legal passage of foreign commercial and military vessels in Sri Lankan waters, and that Sri Lanka also accepts requests for Chinese research ships to dock for the same reasons, while mentioning that similar ships from India, China, Japan, Australia, and a host of other countries will also dock here on a regular basis.
Reuters reported that India is very worried that the CCP will use Hambantota port for “military purposes against India,” and is always vigilant about Chinese ships sailing in the waters of the Indian Ocean.
New Delhi TV reported that, after a short stay in Sri Lanka, the Chinese ship will go to the Northwest Indian Ocean to conduct research such as tracking and monitoring satellite activity, this could be one of the reasons for India’s vigilance. According to sources, India has verbally protested to Sri Lanka.
China’s Foreign Ministry recently responded to Reuters, saying that China has been exercising freedom of navigation in the sea in accordance with the law, hoping that relevant parties will see and accurately report China’s marine science research activities without interfering with normal and lawful maritime operations.
Tian Shichen, a senior research fellow and director of the Center for International Law on Military Operations in Beijing, said that India has no right to point a finger at another sovereign state. It was normal to resupply warships. He also criticized India for making irresponsible remarks about this lawful and reasonable act.
Sri Lanka fell into its worst economic recession in 70 years since independence in 1948, and declared bankruptcy on July 5. The domestic inflation rate reached 57%, foreign exchange reserves had been exhausted, and a series of mass protests broke out, forcing the Rajapaksa ruling family to announce their resignation and flee to Singapore.
This island nation of only 22 million people is burdened with a huge debt of up to $51 billion. China’s debt is about 10%, but the actual share is believed to be much higher.
In 2017, the Sri Lankan government leased Hambantota port to China Merchants Group for 99 years to repay its debt, and the port is only 6 to 10 nautical miles from the main route from Asia to Europe. It can be said that this is an important connection point of “One Belt, One Road.” The CCP has also been criticized for setting up a debt trap.
However, Sri Lankan Ambassador Palitha Kohona recently emphasized that China is the key to Sri Lanka’s economic recovery.
On July 20, CIA Director William Burns said that the “dumb bet” on high-debt Chinese investment was the factor that led to the Sri Lanka’s economic collapse. This is also a big warning for other countries.
Mr. Burns pointed out at the Aspen Security Forum, “The Chinese have a lot of weight to throw around and they can make a very appealing case for their investments. Nations should look at a place like Sri Lanka today — heavily indebted to China – which has made some really dumb bets about their economic future and are suffering pretty catastrophic, both economic and political, consequences as a result.”
Burns added, “That, I think, ought to be an object lesson to a lot of other players — not just in the Middle East or South Asia, but around the world — about having your eyes wide open about those kinds of dealings.”
Nikkei Asia reported that during the Sri Lankan civil war, China sold weapons to the tune $1.8 billion; After the civil war ended, Beijing also claimed to have help build infrastructure, while providing a $5 billion loan with an average interest rate of up to 3.3%, almost five times the Japanese loan rate. At the same time, the CCP also used the name “Belt and Road,” to “invest” $1.4 billion, and planned to carry out reclamation projects near the coast of Colombo to build a modern business center, intending to take hold of the Indian Ocean’s strategic resources. In addition, the CCP even financed the construction of the Hambantota deep-sea port, which eventually became a typical example of the CCP’s “debt trap diplomacy.”