China and the Port City is like a jigsaw puzzle. The task is to try and fit all the pieces together to create a clear picture of why China is so keen to have 300 hectares of land in the Port City
The word enigma just about captures the Port City saga. It has a touch of mystery about it and has aspects that are difficult to understand and it can rightly be called an enigma.
There is a fundamental question that remains unanswered and this makes it an enigma that is mysterious and difficult to understand. People are rightly suspicious of enigmas, and hence the barking at shadows that is now going on about the bill to establish a Port City Commission.
The Port City should shed the enigma shroud and be open and honest about all the intentions of all the sponsors of the port city;
The fundamental question
The fundamental question is “Why do the Chinese who have thousands and thousands of hectares of land and thousands of miles of sea shore want to come to Sri Lanka and spend billions of dollars to get 300 hectares of land?”
This question has never been answered. Why has it never been answered? We do not know why it has never been answered. It is this sequence that prompts one to be suspicious about the whole Port City saga. Suspicion leads to speculation. This is a game that has no boundaries, and the mind can ramble on in many directions speculating on endless possible scenarios. If one garners the gossip around town it leads to two strands.
One, is this whole Port City saga was engineered by the Chinese to put a few million dollars in the pockets of the Rajapaksas. This does not fly and makes no sense. If the Chinese wanted to put a few million dollars in the pockets of the Rajapaksas, they need not have spent billion dollars on the Port City project. They could quite easily have put any number of dollars into a numbered account in any of the off shore ‘no questions asked’ financial institutions scattered around the world.
The other is the Silk Route story, that was created by the Chinese which they have tried to wrap up in many different cloaks. The genesis of this Silk Route exercise is the fact that China has no oil or gas and to keep its economic wheels turning it has to ensure a supply of gas and oil procured from elsewhere. One route is the difficult overland route, (which they are now working on) and the other is the existing far more easy sea route used for centuries to move goods in and out of China.
It is a perfectly valid objective for any country to take steps that ensure that vital oil and gas will reach its shores. What the Chinese have done is to endeavour to build relationships with countries along the Silk Route. As a country with deep pockets the easy approach is to partner in various mega projects in these countries. We have had our share of this approach with the Chinese inputs to build the Hambantota port well located in strategic terms. Now the Chinese have a long-term grip on our well-situated Hambantota port. So, on their chart of securing the Silk Route in Sri Lanka they can put a tick and say job done. With that done the question that surfaces is, “Why the big investment in a land reclamation project to build a port city?”
The jigsaw puzzle
China and the Port City is like a jigsaw puzzle. The task is to try and fit all the pieces together to create a clear picture of why China is so keen to have 300 hectares of land in the Port City. As I said earlier the money for the Rajapaksa does not fit into the jigsaw. The other piece that also does not fit is the suggestion that the Chinese want to establish friendly relationships with all the countries along the old Silk Route, and this was the only method open to them to build a close relationship with Sri Lanka. This is not true as before the Port City the Chinese had done many major projects in Sri Lanka and had good personal relationships with the political leadership in Sri Lanka.
The other intriguing piece is the visit to Si Lanka of the very top of the Chinese leadership, including their prime minister himself, who then has a telephone chats level of friendship with President Rajapaksa.
As these pieces do not help to complete the picture of why China wants the 300 hectares in Port City, to find the answer we must go back to the game of speculating.
Is it something to with military strategies?
Is this great desire to have 300 hectares of land reclaimed from the sea in some way connected to a Chinese military strategy? India is perceived by China as a major threat. China has strong fortifications on the border with India. They like India will have behind the front lines the heavy military hardware. India aware of China’s ability to fire long range of rockets will, have sensitive hardware of the war machine well out of the reach of China’s firepower.
From India’s perspective the safe place to keep their elite fighter plane squads out of the reach of Chinese rockets is deep down south in India. Now if China gets a space to park their military hardware close enough to reach southern India, then China gains and India loses a major strategic position. This is why China is so desperately keen on stoking their friendship with us, so as to ensure they will get the 300 hectares of land which gives them a major strategic advantage. This is the missing piece in the jigsaw. It fits nicely into the jigsaw and completes the picture of why China is so keen on the 300 hectares of reclaimed land.
India has been our best friend for a long time. They can also be a major disruptor when provoked. We must always remember that they were the founder sponsors of the LTTE. We should take all possible steps to soften the impact of China getting 300 hectares in a nice direct rocket line to south India. We should insert a clause that the 300 hectares will not be used for any military purpose and that it should always be open for inspection by us.
Hopefully it will in some way appease Modi and hopefully he will send us the vaccines.
I must say finally that this essay is a total exercise in speculation. I do not have an iota of evidence for what has been written. But the good thing about speculation is that it provokes thinking.