When Sir Stamford Raffles arrived in Singapore in 1819, the British set about creating the Port of Singapore. In time, with much hard work, the port became successful. In the 1960s, the Singapore government set about further expansions of its ports along the south of the island, with five additional gateways operating by the 1990s. It is now one of the biggest and busiest collection of ports in the world. Having visited these ports over the years, the scale of operations is extraordinary. The success of Singapore Ports was built up over time. It didn’t come easily or immediately. The same with the Piraeus Port in Greece, although it became successful and profitable quickly.
To go further, contrary to the propaganda disseminating from Hillman and other like-minded folks, the Hambantota port is doing remarkably well. According to a recent report published in the Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) on 5 September 2021, in the past year alone, the Hambantota port has produced a 204% profit increase of 4.71 billon HK dollars, and a one billion rupees dividend to Sri Lanka. The Hillman argument is totally destroyed by this new revelation. He has no case to make, and neither does Lakshman Gunasekera. Hillman’s conclusions were based on out-of-date reports that belong to a relic age of long ago. It was the Ranil-Sirisena government that sold the port back to China in 2017 with exclusive rights to China for 15 years – a major blunder on their part as it now turns out. Mahinda’s judgement was correct, and he should not be held accountable for the mistakes of the Ranil-Sirisena government. In time, the Hambantota port may even rival Singapore.
Thus, Gunasekera’s arguments that developing the Hambantota Port has been a waste of money; that it is not a natural place for a port; or that it cannot be built up to be a highly successful port is totally wrong. The evidence to the contrary is irrefutable. Hambantota is in the process of developing into a vibrant successful port. In part, this is due to its location at the tip of the island along main shipping routes which makes it suitable for commercial ships. It doesn’t matter if building a port involves land reclamation or artificial constructions. Singapore does this all the time. If you compare a 1940s map of Singapore with a map of the island today, we can see how the southern features of the island have been changed to facilitate the building of the ports. Some places have disappeared, and new areas been created.
The so called “debt trap” used against China is a red herring.
I agree with Michael Roberts that Trinco is not suitable for a commercial port. It is too far off the main shipping routes. It has historically been a naval port, and for Sri Lanka’s future security, Trinco should keep it this way.
I am mystified as to what Gunasekera means by his statement: “All this argument in favour of Hambantota is either naive belief in the propaganda and sales talk of the utterly corrupt or the deliberate.” Where is the propaganda? Propaganda comes from the likes of people like Hillman.
Can Gunasekera give specific instances of corruption at Hambantota back up by evidence? Can he deny corruption has been a significant problem in Sri Lanka for decades, irrespective of the port? Corruption in Sri Lanka exists whetheror not the port exists, as the root causes of corruption come from another direction that is deeply embedded into the structure of SL since 1948. It requires specialized tools and methods to eradicate, but I suspect there is a lack of willingness to stamp it out. It has little to do with the port’s existence. It is fallacious to argue that corruption can be stopped by closing a port.
I am baffled by those who constantly whinge and criticize the development of Hambantota based on fabricated lies. There is a common denominator to the collection of people who whinge about Hambantota, which, since that blundering decision of Ranil and Sirisena only 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.
PS: Chris Devonshire-Ellis has provided a more authoritative and accurate evaluation of Hambantota.
A NOTE from THUPPAHI:
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 well as quacks. Hence the blanket of anonymity.
PERTINENT ESSAYS ON THIS TOPIC
An Insider: “The Internal Tussles & Vagaries and Scheming that hindered the Development of the Hambantota Port Project,” 15 September 2021, https://thuppahis.com/2021/09/15/the-internal-tussles-vagaries-and-scheming-that-hindered-the-development-of-the-hambantoa-port-project/#more-55017
Chris Devonshire-Ellis: “The Real (not Secret) History of Hambantota,”,6 September 2021, https://www.silkroadbriefing.com/news/2021/09/06/the-real-not-secret-history-of-hambantota/
Deborah Brautigam & Meg Rithmire: “No Debt Trap at Hambantota: False Picture on China’s Role,” 13 September 2021, https://thuppahis.com/2021/09/13/54997/#more-54997,
Fair Dinkum: “American Schemes of Global Bifurcation behind Hillman’s Story on Hambantota Port,” 8 September 2021,https://thuppahis.com/2021/09/08/american-schemes-of-global-bifurcation-behind-hillmans-story-on-hambantota-port/#more-54854
Dharmasena: The Port of Colombo 1860-1939, Colombo, 1989.
Dharmasena: “Colombo: Gateway and Oceanic Hub of Shipping,” in Frank Broeze (ed.) Brides of the Sea. Port Cities of Asia from the 16th -20th Centuries,NSW University Press, 1989, pp 152-72.
Lakshman Gunasekera: “Lakshman’s Hambantota Diarrhoeas,” 11 September 2021, https://thuppahis.com/2021/09/11/lakshmans-hambantota-diarrhoeas/#more-54926
Mick Moore: “Spats about Ports in Sri Lanka: The Bigger Picture,” 10 September 2021, https://thuppahis.com/2021/09/10/spats-about-ports-in-sri-lanka-the-bigger-picture/#more-54894
Michael Roberts: “The Two Faces of the Port City: Colombo in Modern Times,” in Frank Broeze (ed.) Brides of the Sea. Port Cities of Asia from the 16th -20th Centuries, NSW University Press, 1989, pp 173-87.
Michael Roberts as Thuppahi: “Map Illustrating the Hegemony Secured by Colombo within Island Lanka in the Twentieth Century,” 16 September 2021,