I am unfamiliar with the work of Jonathan E. Hillman. So, I spent time researching his background before reading this article. I wanted to read the article with an open mind. With this type of article, it is important know who the author is; what his relationship is with Sri Lanka, China and the US; the organisation he is affiliated with and what their goals are; and why did he decide to write this essay and for what purpose?
The very first sentence sets the tone for the entire essay by comparing Chinese loans to “cigarettes”, and the Hambantota Port as “cancerous lung on the warning label.” The claim that what has happened in Hambantota is a “catastrophe”; then labelling the combination of Mahinda Rajapaksa and China as a “destructive marriage” — these are loaded words rather than statements of meaning and substance. The claim the port moved from an “intriguing concept” to a “wasteful reality” reveals a great deal about where the author is coming from, and why he decided to write this paper. As an outsider, he is setting out to be as one-sided and negative as possible and doesn’t dig deep enough into China and Sri Lankan perspectives on the subject in a balanced way. When he does touch on these perspectives, he constantly undercuts them.
The China debt trap claim branded by Western think tanks which the author raises has been widely discredited by credible sources such as Deborah Brautigam and Meg Rithmire in The Atlantic. The author has fails to mention the extent to which Sri Lanka’s debt problems were caused by Western loans.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on 28 October 2020, telling him: “Sri Lanka must make difficult but necessary choices,” which means, “cut ties with China and bring the US in as a full partner on trade, security and infrastructure projects” – a request that benefit the United States.
The essay is loaded with twisted claims. For instance, the claim that China rarely discloses project details implies other countries and Western investors do, when in fact all countries, investors and business enter into contracts with partners on a strictly confidential basis. It is standard practice.
The claim the idea for the port can be traced back to Mahinda Rajapakse’s father isn’t backed up with a source. Likewise, the anecdote given by the Hambantota mayor who claims Lenard Woolf had originally proposed the idea for a port at Hambantota in 1910; again, we don’t know the basis for this claim. No attempt is made to verify it. To use this anecdote to suggest China is now operating a port once converted by Imperial Britain is a loaded and weak argument to sustain.
Kamala Harris in an intimate conversation with Lee Hsien Loong on 24 August 2021. She tells Lee that US is not asking Singapore to choose sides, but is playing language games as she then goes on to push Singapore into choosing the US in its strategic competition plans to counter China’s rise.
Kamala Harris meeting with Vietnam’s Vice President in the Gold Room of the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on 25 August 2021, to get Vietnam on board the US strategic competition against China.whether from China, Japan, the US or UK – all of them invest to get a return.
It is important to keep in mind that investors –– whether from China, Japan, the US or UK – all of them invest to get a return. No one invests money to lose it. The claim that “China doesn’t follow the same rules as other leading lenders” and Chinese contracts “contain unusual confidentiality clauses” doesn’t mean much because confidentiality clauses are normal practice across every country and investor.
No one invests money to lose it. The claim that “China doesn’t follow the same rules as other leading lenders” and Chinese contracts “contain unusual confidentiality clauses” doesn’t mean much because confidentiality clauses are normal practice across every country and investor.
In conclusion, the author has set out to present an entirely negative view of the Hambantota port depicting it as a wasted venture, while casting suspicion on China, Chinese investment, and the Belt-road. There are positive aspects to this relationship and investment too which need to be considered to gain a more balanced understand of the port. The essay fails to mention that China did not seek to be an investor in the Hambantota port. Sri Lanka invited China to join this project. The agreement is therefore between two parties and has nothing to do with the US. As this paper reveals, though unstated, is that what concerns the US and this author has more to do geopolitical interests and their push for creating a bifurcated world. For these reasons, it would be unwise to rely on this essay as a complete and comprehensive understanding of the Hambantota Port.
FURTHER DISJOINTED THOUGHTS
- It is not a secret history.
- As Michael Ondaatje, one of Sri Lanka’s greatest chroniclers, once said: “In Sri Lanka a well-told lie is worth a thousand facts.” And the debt-trap narrative is just that: a lie, and a powerful one. …………… https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/aug/28/michael-ondaatje-the-divided-man
- If I am not mistaken, there is an international airport in North Korea which is less used than Mahinda’s.
- In Melbourne, over the last decade, many investors have poured money into building apartment buildings knowing full well, no one will rent or buy them. But no one thinks that is strange.
HOT PRESS: AN EMAIL NOTE from “Fair Dinkum,” 17 September 2021**
“I am baffled by those criticising the development of Hambantota, constantly whinging about it for no good reason. There is a common denominator to the collection of people who whinge about Hambantota, which serves to undermine Sri Lanka’s national interests. Their efforts would be better deployed in getting behind the port and the development that springs from it rather than trying to sabotage it. ”
** As the pseudonym indicates, “Fair Dinkum” is located in Australasia. While having experience of work in Sri Lanka, his specialist field and linguistic skills are in Malaysia and China. This line of work renders him vulnerable to attack from security agencies as wellas quacks. Hence the blanket of anonymity.
Stuart Lau: US pushes Greece to stop acting as China’s ‘dragon’s head’ into Europe. South China Morning Post, 3 November 2020. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3108258/us-pushes-greece-stop-acting-chinas-dragons-head-europe?module=inline&pgtype=article
Eduardo Baptista: China-US tension: Portugal feels Washington’s ire as Beijing comes wooing with an eye on strategic Azores. South China Morning Post, 2 November 2020. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3106844/china-us-tension-portugal-feels-washingtons-ire-beijing-comes