Hambantota Port: Dirty Economics from the New York Times

Michael Roberts

The New York Times “distinguished itself” in 2009 by participating in the campaign to intervene in the Sri Lankan government’s campaign to end the LTTE military states’ control of parts of Sri Lanka. It was also partial to the Western powers’ successful efforts to oust Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Presidential Election in 2015 via the formation of what is known as the Yahapaalana Consortium.

The Hambantota Port gets only a small percentage of Sri Lanka’s port business, overshadowed by the main complex in the capital.CreditAdam Dean for The New York Times

 Sri Lankan workers processing cars being unloaded from a ship at Hambantota Port.CreditAdam Dean for The New York Times

As the Yahapaalana is under severe criticism at home now in 2018, Maria Abi-Habib, one of the NYT media personnel, has produced a scathing article on the Hambantota port project that was initiated by the Rajapaksa government. Its catchy title “How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port” is designed to grab attention. Its pictorial contnet is certainly striking and worth viewing.

Wham! Bang! Attention is has received. Suresh Murugesar and Shyamon Jayasinghe within the Facebook and gmail circuits have recommended it to their circles. In Adelaide University, Gerry Groot and Luke Giles – who are engaged in a China-bashing project of their own — seized on this item as well.

Quite significant that. For intellectuals in OZ to devote space to processes in Sri Lanka and the Indian Ocean. So  Maria Abi-Habib has struck pay-dirt.

Not really though. Dig deeper. Sift. The gold dust hung round China’s neck turns out to be grey soil from the sewers.

As principal refutation I present an assessment of the Habib article by Gerald Peiris, who happens to be a Professor of Geography and one of the country’s leading economists in my opinion, but whose short review should be read for its intrinsic content and not evaluated on his academic credentials. To this Memorandum I add my own discursive thoughts because I have always been  an advocate of the Hambantota project in the light of the spatial dimensions of political economy.

A MEMO from Gerald H Peiris, 27 June 2018

The NYT seems to have the usual quota of NITWITS among its reporters and feature writers. This article is so obviously the product of such a nitwit who has not bothered to about factual authenticity and objectivity of interpretation.

Yes, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government very definitely followed a policy that entailed drastic changes in foreign relations. Yes, the Peking government has pursued a policy of strengthening itself as a major sea power in the Asia-Pacific region.

So: it is not surprising for the NYT to be hostile towards both these trends. That is quite OK. But what is not OK is the factual content of this piece.

To illustrate:

A = This nitwit ought to have been aware that all major projects of this scale have what economists refer to as ‘gestation periods’ – and that, in the case of seaports the ‘gestation’ is quite protracted. There are several reasons for this – for instance, for the port to begin yielding benefits at optimum levels, there has to be a major transformation of the hinterland. Likewise, the major shipping lines do long-term operational planning in the movement of their fleets, and hence they do not change their schedules in the short-run just because a new port has been built.

B = In the context of these considerations, the performance of the Hambantota port has been quite impressive. It is certainly advancing rapidly — and it would have been even more rapid has it not been for the ‘regime change’ in 2015 engineered mainly by the NATO powers.

 A cargo ship navigating one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, near Hambantota, Sri Lanka, in May.CreditAdam Dean for The New York Times

A COMMENT on VIDEO BY Dr Nanda GODAHEWA ……………. …………… ……………………….. ……………………….. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=2254301771252340&id=100000176167806

AN INTERVENTION from ‘outer space’ in USA, 27 June 2018: http://www.moonofalabama.org/

China’s Port In Sri Lanka’s Is Good Business – The NYT’s Report On It Is Propaganda

‘China’s financial imperialism’ is a relatively new genre in western journalism. China is providing loans to other countries to build infrastructure. If those countries can not pay back the loans, China offers to lease and manage the infrastructure built with its money. That somehow is supposed to create a “debt trap for vulnerable countries”.

Yesterday the New York Times lamented about Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port Development Project:

Over years of construction and renegotiation with China Harbor Engineering Company, one of Beijing’s largest state-owned enterprises, the Hambantota Port Development Project distinguished itself mostly by failing, as predicted. With tens of thousands of ships passing by along one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, the port drew only 34 ships in 2012.And then the port became China’s.

Mr. Rajapaksa was voted out of office in 2015, but Sri Lanka’s new government struggled to make payments on the debt he had taken on. Under heavy pressure and after months of negotiations with the Chinese, the government handed over the port and 15,000 acres of land around it for 99 years in December.

The port is in a strategic location right alongside the shipping lines between Asia and the Middle East and Africa.

biggerThe U.S. does not like it that China is building infrastructure in such a strategic position. Instead of competing with it in the same field it is betting on propaganda and a more militaristic approach.

The first warning flag that the NYT piece is part of such propaganda is the quoted statistic. Why is it using a 2012 number of 34 ship arrivals  for a port that only opened in late 2010? Ocean ports do not develop in just two years. It takes decades to develop their hinterland and businesses. Unlike Sri Lanka’s main port Colombo, which is specialized in container traffic and already congested, Hambantota was built to handle other goods:

Cont. reading: China’s Port In Sri Lanka’s Is Good Business – The NYT’s Report On It Is Propaganda

Posted by b at 07:12 AM | Comments (61)

NOTEWORTHY REMARKS on FACEBOOK within the Suresh Murugasar page with PERTINENT DATA

Vinod Moonesinghe: This article is full of half-truths. It doesn’t even mention MR’s deal with the Chinese for a BOOT deal for a container terminal at Hambantota, for only 35 years’ lease of ONLY THE CONTAINER TERMINAL, and for more money.
Suresh Murugaser why are you repeating this type of unresearched propaganda article? The NYT is the organ which coined the term “string of pearls”, along with its militarist-inspired theory.

Dayan Samaraweera: Wow what a wonderful article, countries like us are begging for investments and when they come we call it a debt trap. So who helped us so far India, USA or Europe? Indeed no one wants to invest without a return and no one is doing charity. My guess is Chinese are better than Indians or US.

Michael Obeyesekere I have said this before. The loans from I.M.F and World Bank is 59% of Sri Lanka’s G.D.P. ….. loans from China is 3% G.D.P. Source Central Bank. Get your facts right.
Reeves Neydorff
    65 percent of Americas manufacturing is outsourced to China, and every western brand name. China supplies 65 percent of electronic component. for Americas military.


Nishan de Mel of VERITE RESEARCH:  “Lanka’s External Debt: 2010 and 2016 in Comparison …. There is no Chinese Gonibilla Monster,” 29 January 2018, https://thuppahis.com/2018/01/29/lankas-external-debt-2010-and-2016-in-comparison-there-is-no-chinese-gonibilla-monster/


* “NY Times article inconsistent with facts – China,” Island, 2 July 2018,  http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=187244


Filed under accountability, american imperialism, authoritarian regimes, centre-periphery relations, commoditification, doctoring evidence, economic processes, foreign policy, historical interpretation, Indian Ocean politics, island economy, landscape wondrous, law of armed conflict, life stories, modernity & modernization, politIcal discourse, self-reflexivity, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, the imaginary and the real, transport and communications, truth as casualty of war, welfare & philanthophy, world events & processes

4 responses to “Hambantota Port: Dirty Economics from the New York Times

  1. Pingback: Bob Carr’s Sharp Criticism of Present China-Bashing by Aussie Ministers, Media and Intellectuals | Thuppahi's Blog

  2. Pingback: Hambantota Port: Some Basic Facts from the Spot Today | Thuppahi's Blog

  3. Pingback: Re-positioning Uyangoda et al in the 21st Century Political Dispensation | Thuppahi's Blog

  4. Pingback: Consolidation of an US Logistics Hub in Sri Lanka amidst the Gross Failures of Rajapaksa, Sirisena and Wickremasinghe on the UN Front | Thuppahi's Blog

Leave a Reply