Colombo Port City Project has been approved in haste by the Sri Lankan government to serve China’s strategic interest in the island nation, according to a report by Policy Research Group Strategic Insight.
The approval of the Colombo Port City Project by the Sri Lankan government amplifies China’s motive to use its economic clout to use strategic ports of other countries, especially in South Asia.
According to Policy Research Group Strategic Insight (POREG), the Colombo Port City Economic Commission (CPCEC) bill was tabled in the Sri Lankan Parliament in April which was passed through Sri Lankan Supreme Court.
Critics have questioned the Sri Lankan Supreme Court’s speedy approval of the Project thereby obviating the need for a 2/3rd majority or a referendum.
On the other hand, experts believe that China has taken advantage of Sri Lankan’s deep economic crisis.
Further, China lured Sri Lanka with a fresh USD 500 million loan, the second tranche of USD 1 billion in 2020 as a part of the Post Covid package. The Covid package came after China’s approval of a USD 1.5 billion currency swap with Sri Lanka.
The above economic package enabled China to give sweeping powers China to oversee the port city project.
About 70 percent of 85,000 permanent jobs in the port city are meant for locals. China is likely to offer to train them in China, and accordingly, manipulate them to serve its interest.
According to Strategic Insight, China may even manipulate regional currency/money markets in Port City.
The Port City Development Project is an extension of China’s ‘Strings of Pearl’ strategy in the Indian Ocean to counter India’s growing influence in the wider Indo-Pacific and beyond.
As a part of the ‘Strings of Pearl’ strategy, China has helped Pakistan to build a deep-sea port in the town of Gawadar in Balochistan. Further, Beijing is courting littoral states in the Indian Ocean such as the Maldives, Mauritius, and Seychelles through the economic package.
Earlier, the US had cautioned Sri Lanka against the Port City turning into a money-laundering hub and other illegal activities.
Sri Lanka is influenced by China is understandable as the former wishes to make Colombo a major financial and services hub in South Asia through Chinese help through the Port City Project.
Experts believe that the Port City Project could move in the same direction as the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota where China used the debt-trap diplomacy and Beijing pushed Sri Lanka into borrowing money from Chinese banks to pay for the project, which had no prospect of commercial success.
On the other hand, China pushed Sri Lanka to enact a special legal dispensation with full powers to operate the Port City.
However, Sri Lankan officials who were involved in promoting Colombo Port City Economic Commission (CPCEC), have been charged in some corruption cases in the past.
Also, Anti-corruption watchdogs, Transparency International including, have raised concern that the Colombo Port City will become a major black money haven in the Indian Ocean. (ANI)