Splainer

Wednesday, June 2 2021


Dive In

Dairy sector is an important contributor to the GDP of India but the GDP can be affected adversely by misinformation spread by opportunistic elements like this NGO. Organisations like this are part of the conspiracy to render unemployed the milk producers of India.

That’s the vice-chairman of Amul Valamji Humbal urging the Prime Minister to ban the animal rights advocacy group PETA. The NGO’s sin: it recently wrote a letter suggesting Amul could benefit by switching to selling vegan products—including milk, cheese etc.—like many other dairy giants around the world. The cooperative has taken offence to what it sees as a conspiracy by foreign organisations and companies to destroy Indian dairy farmers.

Big Story

A troubling Chinese outpost in Sri Lanka

The TLDR: It’s bad enough having China perched on our head in Ladakh, New Delhi now has to deal with it nibbling at our toes. The new Port City Project in Sri Lanka has created sovereign Chinese territory just a few hundred kilometres away from Kanyakumari. We look at this project in the context of the Rajapaksa government’s dangerously close relationship with Beijing—which in turn is cleverly using its economic clout to military advantage. (Requested by subscriber Prateeque George)

 

What’s this Port City Project?

  • At its simplest, this is a Special Economic Zone created to attract foreign investment. The aim—according to the government, which is run by two brothers, PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa—is to create a global hub that can compete with Singapore and Dubai.
  • It is a public-private venture between the Sri Lankan government and a company called CHEC Port City Colombo—a specially created 100% owned subsidiary of China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC).
  • But the $1.4 billion project is being entirely funded by the Chinese partner. CHEC in turn is owned by China Communications Construction company—which is a Beijing-run enterprise.
  • The SEZ will sit on 269 hectares (660 acres) of reclaimed land near Colombo’s seafront. While all the land is technically owned by the Sri Lankan government, 116 hectares will be given to CHEC on a 99-year lease—which is similar to terms on which the British government got Hong Kong.
  • According to Mint, the terms of the partnership “effectively turns these 660 acres into Chinese sovereign territory.”

 

This is what Port City will look like when completed:

 

But it’s just a free-trade zone right?

Yes, but it is an example of how China secures its strategic advantage using what is called “debt-trap diplomacy.” Here’s how it works. As with Port City, China invests money in infrastructure projects in countries that are cash-strapped—be it in Africa or South Asia. The terms are difficult to meet, and eventually the country can’t repay the money owed. At that time, China extracts political and economic concessions that offer military benefits. A good example is the Hambantota Port—also in Sri Lanka. 

 

  • Back in 2008, Prime Minister Mahinda took a $307 million loan from Chinese government’s Export-Import Bank (Exim) to build a port in Hambantota.
  • Part of the deal was that CHEC (the same Port City partner) would build the port. 
  • Another requirement was intelligence sharing: “We expect you to let us know who is coming and stopping here.” 
  • Then this happened: “Over years of construction and renegotiation with [CHEC]... 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.”
  • In 2012, Rajapaksa took another $757 million loan to scale up the project.
  • In 2015, China poured money into Rajapaksa’s reelection campaign—via CHEC, no less.
  • Rajapaksa lost the election, but the new government could not pay off the money owed to CHEC. In 2017—desperate to reduce its debt—Sri Lanka signed a $1.1 billion dollar deal that handed over the port to CHEC on a 99-year lease. See the pattern? 

 

Point to note: China follows a very different policy in Africa where it has made similar investments—and often eases the terms of repayment in such situations. So the underlying motive for any of its debt-trap initiatives is often revealed in the outcome, As The Wire spells out:

 

“China’s ‘debt trap diplomacy’ is not a figment of imagination. While it may have decided, for strategic reasons, to keep it in abeyance in some parts of the world, it is blatantly apparent in others. The pattern is quite clear in India’s neighbourhood where it is systematically acquiring real estate for strategic reasons.”

 

Point to note: Hambantota’s location:

 

Also of note: The Port City Project is hardly a one-off deal. According to the Colombo Telegraph, CHEC will be accumulating many more goodies in the days to come:

 

“Over the next two years, the government plans to sell hundreds of acres of prime state-owned land in Colombo Fort and its adjacent Slave Island area, including property currently being used by the Sri Lanka Air Force and Sri Lanka Army. Colombo Telegraph learns that the bulk of these properties have been reserved for China Harbour Engineering Corporation, through an intermediary local firm created specifically for the purpose of easing the path for transfer to the Beijing-owned entity and other affiliated investors.”

 

Why is Sri Lanka doing this?

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In today’s edition

Headlines That Matter

  • A big espionage row in Europe
  • Expansion plans for cricket
  • ‘Silicon Six’ ducked $100 billion in taxes
  • A Stargate-esque bridge between cities

 

A list of curious facts

  • Can zapping your brain make you fall in love?
  • A futuristic resort made entirely of recycled ocean plastic
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